Study reveals exploitative and inequitable practices of dental tourism in Mexico
By Halimah Beaulieu
A recent study led by SFU health sciences PhD candidate Krystyna Adams suggests that dental tourism industry practices in Los Algodones, Mexico—a medical border town—reinforce structural injustices and exploitation. The findings may have implications for the broader, global, medical tourism industry.
The study, published in Social Science & Medicine, found that practices upholding Los Algodones’ reputation as a desirable dental tourism destination foster poor working conditions, discriminatory access to economic advancement, and the provision of inferior care.
Interviews with individuals working in Los Algondones’ dental industry reveal that tourists’ expectations for fast service at lower costs encourage stressful work environments, lower wages, and poorer quality of care. Most dental tourists are Americans and Canadians who may face barriers to care at home.
“The pressure to provide cheap and fast service creates conditions where employees work long hours at a very fast pace, and at lower wages,” says Adams. Some clinics also hire untrained technicians to meet the demand for timely services, possibly decreasing the quality of care provided.
In addition, Adams found that clinic employees tolerate disrespectful behavior and harassment from dental tourists to satisfy their demands, and to avoid negative online reviews. Many employees feel obliged to satisfy customers, even if this means providing care that is not medically recommended.
Despite such working conditions, those without many alternative employment options in the region perceive the dental tourism sector to be mutually beneficial for both tourists and local workers.
“However, this benefit masks what is morally problematic about the dental tourism industry,” says Adams. She says those who occupy positions of power in Los Algodones’ dental tourism industry, such as clinic owners, may legitimize degrading working conditions to protect the industry and its reputation, which in turn accommodates their own interests.