The Mexican dental empire comes into view the moment Americans step off the footbridge that leads from downtown El Paso to Ciudad Juarez. The first building they see is a squat dental office with tinted windows. Once they hit downtown’s Juarez Avenue, they find taxi drivers hustling fares for trips to the dentist — “Don’t worry. Clean. You’ll like them.” — along with the usual pitches for prostitutes, cocaine and discount cowboy boots.
The Washington Post accompanied its article “Discount Dentistry, South of the Border” with a shot of an American dental tourist flirting with Dr. Simi, the chubby dancing mascot of Farmacias Similares, a discount chain of pharmacies selling “close but not exactly generic” drugs to Mexico’s poor. The wildly successful brainchild of Victor González, this business serves a niche market, and it does it well, offering up $25 M.N. ($2.50 USD) consultations with a physician, bargain-basement laboratory tests and cheap pharmaceuticals. In fact, so well that some foreigners mistake it for the real thing. One would-be expat, who didn’t last long in Mexico, insisted that any physician charging more — as much as the $500 M.N. a well-qualified dermatologist asked — was committing highway robbery.
Don’t these folks realize that there are well-qualified dentists all over Mexico who don’t need to pick up patients in a van from a hotel advertising special rates for dental patients, who don’t need to advertise, and who aren’t even in neighborhoods selling cocaine, the service of sex workers and discount cowboy boots? And located in border towns as well as the rest of the republic?
And why didn’t the Washington Post photograph that tourist front of a branch of Farmacia Benavides, the largest drug store chain in the country?