Yesterday, we crossed the Mexican border from San Diego to Tijuana. We’ll be heading south, by car to Guanajuato where we’ll stay for a while. But before we delve south into Mexico by car, John and I are getting our amalgam/mercury tooth fillings removed here in Tijuana.
As a medical writer for clients who hire me to put together data and content about controversial topics, I keep encountering scary information about my mercury fillings; I keep reading about things like Alzheimer’s Disease, autoimmune disorders, and generally diminished immune function that start to happen when the liver can’t purge all the toxins anymore. (Watch this video about how mercury fillings “gas” into your mouth for more info, or if you trust Dr. Oz more than me, you can watch his 3 part series about the health problems caused by amalgam fillings.) Currently, my health is great. John’s health is great. Lydian doesn’t have fillings. But you have to understand that as someone who spends nearly every day reading about medical conspiracies and the corruption in the U.S. healthcare system, I just can’t ignore the problem of mercury fillings anymore. Are my mercury fillings making me sick? Not yet…but they probably will in the future and…when they do, my doctor won’t have a clue about what’s really going on.
So about 2 months ago, I called a “holistic biological dentist” in Denver and asked the girl who answered the phone to just “give me an estimate” of how much it would cost for me to get my five amalgam fillings replaced with human-friendly composite ones. She evaded my question and talked instead about how the dentist is going to really pay attention to my overall health and not just my teeth.
“Listen…” I said, “I get why you can’t give me an exact estimate. I’m not going to quote you on your estimate or hold you to it because I know the dentist has to look at my teeth himself before he can tell me how much it will cost. But I’m looking at some dentists in Mexico and Thailand too and I’m not afraid to travel to get this procedure done. Honestly, I’d rather do it in Denver…” I told her. “But if you can’t give me an estimate, I’ll just go somewhere else.”
She sighed and gave me another pitch about how the holistic dentist was going to not just repair my teeth, but “create a health oral ecology” in my mouth. I told her that that sounded really nice, but I still needed to know if I could afford it first.
“What if my husband and I came in and did an initial consultation?” I asked. “Do you offer free consultations?”
“No…” She said. “An initial consultation with the dentist is $895.”
“Eight hundred and ninety-five DOLLARS?!?” I said. “…PER PERSON?”
“I know it sounds like a lot…” She said. “But it’s totally worth it.”
She sounded young to me. Like someone who was in her early twenties and probably single, childless. Like someone who works at a dental office and gets her dental work comped.
“So…” I said, “Fair enough…so I’d need to budget at least $3000 for my whole family to just get a check-up…a quick little look-see. Can you give me a rough estimate as to how much the dentist charges to then remove and replace one amalgam filling? Because…” I sighed, “You understand that I can’t justify spending $3000 on initial consultations for nothing if that’s all I’ve got in my budget to spend on my whole family. I’ve got to plan for this financially…” I told her.
“Well…” She said conceding finally, “It could be anywhere from $250 to $1000 per filling, I suppose, depending on the size of the filling and some other factors.” She went on to say that if they found “other issues” with my “oral ecology” that those issues would have to be fixed before I could move on and just get the fillings removed.
“How much would that cost?” I asked.
“That depends…” She said.
I wrote all this down. I told her I was writing it down. John has seven fillings. I have five. Lydi has no fillings (thank God). “Okay…” I sighed again, “So, to get all of our fillings removed and replaced would cost between…” I added it up, “…$5000 and $15,000 as long as all the fillings were tiny there were no other issues that needed to be addressed.”
“That’s correct.” She said.
With this information, I closed the conversation. “Thank you so much…” I said.
I told the young woman that I’d talk with my husband and get back in touch with her when we were ready to move forward (LOL).
Then, I started searching online for affordable holistic biological dentists outside the United States.
Tijuana, Mexico was a big medical tourism destination before the words “medical” and “tourism” were ever even put together. Americans cross the border from San Diego to Tijuana to get drugs that they either can’t afford in the U.S. or drugs they can’t acquire because of their addictive qualities and a lack of prescription. The movement across the border for pharmaceuticals has been going on for as long as I can remember, but now, Mexico is also becoming known for its high-quality, low-cost dental care as well. John and I will be going to the American Bio Dental facility in Tijuana to get our mercury fillings removed and replaced in a few days. Then, we’re all going to do something called “chelation therapy” (pronounced “kel lay shun”) to have heavy metals removed from our bodies. I expect to spend between $2500 total, including the five days of chelation.
Several years ago, I was hired by a client to do some writing about medical tourism, specifically as it relates to plastic surgery. The job, actually, was to write about medical tourism as a negative thing. I was supposed to put a spin on the information to make it seem like patients who travel abroad for medical care return after their procedure to the U.S. and no one will look after them during their post-operative recovery. The reason for the spin was that American doctors were losing business to other, affordable hospitals and doctors in Costa Rica, Bangkok, or India.
Since I was forced, at that time, to research the relatively new industry of “medical tourism”, I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. Canadians and west Europeans, for example, travel to the United States for procedures that would be free to them in their home country, but that aren’t accessible because of their socialized healthcare system that involves excessive waiting. A person in Canada may have daily, incapacitating migraine headaches from a nerve that’s pinched…a problem that could easily be repaired in surgery by a neurosurgeon. But they’re waitlisted for 5 years; an unacceptable amount of time for someone who’s incapacitated by pain. So Canadians will pay for a procedure in the U.S. that U.S. citizens themselves can’t afford (because we first have to pay for our insurance premiums and all of our medical care, year after year, up to our deductible first—there are no reserves leftover for actual procedures).
In contrast, U.S. citizens, will travel abroad to places like Mexico, Thailand, India, or Hungary for dental procedures that are too expensive or that aren’t available. They’ll travel for cancer treatments like the various vaccines that most people don’t even realize are available including RigVir in Latvia and Cuba’s lung cancer vaccine, CimaVax and Vaxira, (read more about Cuba’s amazing cancer treatments here) just to name a few . Or for experimental procedures in Costa Rica like the re-myelination of nerve fibers for Multiple Sclerosis sufferers . U.S. citizens are more likely to travel to places like India for an affordable hip replacement that costs 20% of what a hip replacement costs in the states or for procedures that simply aren’t available here because the U.S. healthcare system is too highly regulated and/or corrupt.
For U.S. citizens, especially those who have never traveled in developing countries, medical tourism may seem like a terrifying, if not stupid, thing to do. But that’s just because most Americans don’t realize that these days, most of the X-rays taken in U.S. hospitals are read and interpreted in India. X-ray data is sent online to India and then the results are sent back via the Internet to American doctors. “Telemedicine” as it’s called, is happening all across the country. Doctors are choosing to farm radiology out to India, not because it’s cheaper (though it is), but because Indians do a better job . Many of the specialized medical tourism hospitals in developing countries are among the cleanest, most comfortable, and technologically advanced medical facilities on earth where highly skilled, U.S. or European-trained doctors and nurses treat patients.
In the United States, health has become a commodity. It’s something that can be bought and sold. Our healthcare system is energized and brought to life by its profitability. The system profits when you get sick NOT when you’re healthy. As with the car mechanic who profits when your vehicle breaks down, and not when it’s running smoothly, or the computer repair guy who purposely infects your computer with a bug that will bring your computer down in several months (around the time he’ll need some more cash), there are lots of opportunities at many different levels for a system like ours to become hopelessly corrupt. Pharmaceutical companies are at the hub of it all. They are the source of much of the corruption, but the American food and cosmetics industry is a part of the mix too (TIP: the FDA isn’t watching out for you as much as they’re watching out for big businesses that can profit from your food addictions and subsequent health problems).
Today, there are a number of hospitals in other parts of the world that can effectively treat cancer humanely without chemotherapy or radiation or any other treatment that seems cruel or unusual. But the pharmaceutical industry guards these humane cancer treatments and tries to create a smoke screen so that Americans can’t see their legitimacy. Like me when I was hired to write about how it’s a bad idea to get plastic surgery done in a country where (in reality) procedures are done better and more cheaply, there are thousands of other writers out there who are hired to write unfounded articles like this one about CimaVax on MedScape about how this lung cancer vaccine has generated a lot of hype and excitement over nothing. The MedScape article gives the impression that the vaccine doesn’t work and that it isn’t safe enough to be made available in the U.S. Don’t worry, folks, there’s a company in New York that’s going to do a “clinical trial” probably to prove that the drug doesn’t work (because a drug like chemo that creates repeat customers is more profitable to Big Pharma).
People trust resources like MedScape, not because they’re trustworthy, but because they’ve been enthusiastically marketed to the public. We begin to trust what’s familiar to us…that’s human and that’s how marketing works. MedScape, after all, was started by Peter Frishauf, the director and past president of the Healthcare Marketing and Communications Council, Inc., which is a non-profit organization that has a board of directors made up of members from the pharmaceutical, medical education, publishing, and advertising industries. He rubs shoulders with the guys who stand to lose the most profits if people start accessing legit, non-chemo/non-radiation cancer cures outside of the United States. And the editor-in-chief for MedScape, George D. Lundberg, served as editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the most corrupt, and historically questionable medical organizations on the planet. But the problem of the AMA is an entirely different matter that goes all the way back to John D. Rockefeller and the Flexner Report. Read about it here, if you’d like to better understand how jacked up our healthcare system is.
For the average American, the sweet spot in terms of medical tourism and what this new industry has to offer is in the passage between countries…particularly the exploitation of healthcare systems across the globe in developing countries by citizens in wealthier nations. It may sound negative to use the word “exploitation”, but the thing is, medical tourism is one of few industries that actually benefits developing nations when wealthy citizens from other countries travel for their healthcare needs. Regular tourism activities tend to siphon money out of developing countries via western hotel chains or other products like Coca Cola that tourists tend to purchase on their way from here to there instead of buying the local goods. Ironically, hospitals like Bumrungrad in Bangkok, Thailand (one of the first facilities ever built to specifically cater to medical tourists), are too expensive for their local population to use. Bangkok locals, for example, go to public facilities that are much cheaper but that offer less technologically advanced tools. But the local population is employed in places like Bumrungrad, bringing money into their country from the west so that Thailand can build and buttress their public health care system and make it better for locals. Medical tourism is a weird industry that actually benefits tourists as well as the local population.
For years, people would hire me to write health-related copy with a spin on it. That’s how I learned that much of the content Americans find online about health and medicine is “spun”. It’s been purposely skewed to profit certain industries, NOT in favor of fostering human health. Most information can be spun in this way without actually telling lies. Read online medical information carefully and watch for the “linguistic tricks”. Most readers believe whatever they read and they take the subtle cues, the latent opinions as fact, particularly at sites like WebMD or MedScape. These web sites seem trustworthy just because they’ve been heavily marketed by the pharmaceutical giants who have plenty of money to invest because Americans are big on popping pills and buying into surgeries (whether they need them or not). Today, my clients hire me to fight against the spin and put real information out there, or at least the alternative to pop-beliefs about common medical problems. I tend to get hired now to write the unpopular, little known facts about things like GMO’s, gluten intolerance, acupuncture, or how your cleaning products might be killing you slowly. You know…the crazy stuff that no one believes because there’s no money behind it to really give it that push.
So as the president considers closing the Mexican border and making it less permeable, we all need to think about the implications, as Americans, of losing access to what Mexico and other developing nations have to offer us. A U.S. embargo against Cuba, led Cubans to develop medical technologies that most Americans would only dream about. Americans today are flying to Cuba to spare themselves the torture of enduring a treatment with a high rate of failure (chemo/radiation) in favor of a treatment with few to no side effects and a fairly high rate of success. So, really…what are the implications of fear? Of closing our eyes and our minds to the things that seem crazy, to people who are different than us, or to the things that scare us?
When we build a wall around ourselves, it may seem like a form of protection. From the inside, we might never know what we’re missing. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not missing anything.
References: M. Bookman (2007). Medical Tourism in Developing Countries. Palgrave, Macmillan.  Cote, J. (2014). Healthcare Elsewhere. CreateSpace Independent Publishing.  Issenberg, S. (2016). Outpatients: The Astonishing New World of Medical Tourism. Columbia Global Reports: New York.