Sunday, September 6, 2009

We are dentists.

I went to the dentist last week, and I have to say it was pretty darn easy too. There are tons of dental clinics in Rayong. I went to the one recommended to me by Marie who recently had her two front teeth replaced as the result of a motorbike accident. I figured she would know.

I think it's called Pattaya Dentists... but I couldn't read that sign if I tried (funky modern font). The tooth though, that's a pretty good hint. ;)

And a block down the street there's this clinic. I LOVE this sign.

"We are dentists." - informative, succinct, grammatically correct- what more could you ask for?

The whole experience was pretty typical of my life here. Everything's exactly the same, but completely different.

Exactly the same:
I was really dreading going. I have really bad teeth, I know this. They're too close to floss easily, the enamel is weak and I've been told I have acidic saliva. These teeth put Amanda Bynes through college.* They are also absurdly hypersensitive. I once complained that my teeth were still hurting three hours after a cleaning and was swiftly informed that cleanings aren't actually supposed to hurt. Hmmm...

So despite the fact that Bunny & Bobby went in for a cleaning back in December, I've managed to put it off until now. But my teeth were bugging me and I was afraid I might have a cavity so I finally put on my big girl panties and marched myself to the clinic.

Completely different:
When I walked into the clinic I took off my shoes and put them on the shelf by the door. I was barefoot on the cold tile floor. I had only intended to make an appointment for the next day - to give myself time to mentally steel myself for the experience. But when I told the (blessedly English-speaking) staff that, they said pleasantly "No... today. Please sit down." Um... ok.

After filling out a brief contact card (listing drug allergies and other medical conditions) I sat down on the couch. I had barely opened a magazine before I was called in. Now, I've waited significantly longer than this when I've had a scheduled appointment, so that was a bit of a shock.

Exactly the same:
I was led back into a little glass cubical with the dentist's chair and all associated gear. The hygienist got a sterilized tray out and placed it on the table. She took my glasses & purse etc. and draped me with a little paper sheet.

Completely different:
The actual dentist came in, wearing his white coat & all to do the cleaning.

Exactly the same:
He showed me the tartar on my teeth using a little mirror and told me "You should use floss every day." >roll eyes<

Completely different:
They put a towel over my eyes and another over my neck and chin. I actually liked this. Not only did it shield my eyes from the bright light & protect my chin from spray-back, but it eliminated the awkwardness of staring up the dentist's nostrils while he worked.

Exactly the same:
"Please rinse your mouth."

Completely different:
Well, not completely. The cleaning was quicker not nearly as thorough as I've had in the States. There was no fluoride treatment although there was more than enough scraping & polishing to satisfy me that I was better off for having it done.

Exactly the same:
It hurt like a bee-ach. The dentist chuckled "Yes, a lot of people have sensitivity to cleanings." as I batted his hand away after he scraped a particularly sensitive spot.

Completely different:
With no insurance, I had to pay myself. But it was only 700 baht ($20 US) or in more practical terms, a smidgen more than twice my hourly wage. In the States a cleaning was more like $70 or 3.5 times my hourly wage. So while it was cheap for me, it's hard for me to say if it's considered affordable by the average Thai person. Probably not.... but probably not prohibitively expensive either as I'm pretty sure I got charged the farang price.

Final verdict: When I told my dentist in Oregon that I'd be living in Thailand, and when I've talked to westerners about dentists here in Thailand I've gotten a reaction to the effect of "Oh you don't want to go to a Thai dentist if you can help it!" But nothing about my experience would lead me to agree with that sentiment.** The place was modern and clean, the dentist spoke English well enough to indicate he'd had some serious schooling. All the equipment looked pretty standard, and my teeth do feel and look cleaner. They're still sore despite the dentist's assurances that I had no cavities. But I'm not going to worry about it much. And now that I've done it, I kinda wish I'd done it sooner.

I don't know if I would go as far as recommending that a tourist go get his/her teeth cleaned while traveling here... but it was one of those experiences that was just different enough to make me realize that the way we do things in the States is not the only (nor necessarily the best) way to do them. If more people had the benefit of that perspective, I think it would help the debates about how to fix what's wrong with health care in the states.

TAG: Code Watermelon

*No joke - when my family lived in CA, her dad was my dentist. I saw her as an Ooompa Loompa in my High School's production of Willy Wonka when she was like 6.

**On the other hand, I have heard second hand stories of a dentist chipping a tooth he wasn't working on, and then trying to charge the patient for fixing it. I'm guessing 'malpractice' doesn't really translate.


Yankee in England said...

Okay you have way more balls than I do. I have to admit that I am seriously afraid of going to the dentist in England. If you saw teeth in England you would understand (think Austin Powers). I just do it when I go home, so I don't get mine regularly cleaned.

Jeannette said...

I've been having some tooth pain and went to the dentist in Japan last week. Cost me 22$ w/ national insurance, including antibiotics, a mouth rinse, and pain pills. Without insurance it's not much more expensive. Like $60. In the US a cleaning can run from $150-200 where I used to live.

Go health care reform!

Kaye said...

Great idea with the towel over the eyes! I once had a dentist sneeze on me and keep working. Ick.

Jonathan said...

Hmm. Okay. If 20$ is twice your hourly wage, you are in the wrong country! Here in Hanoi, I get paid 20$ an hour to teach my two English classes! And my teacher-friends get maybe 25$ at a "real" school.

And about Vietnam dentists... Here they have dentists set up on the street. Right next to the lady who sells pho... I imagine you pay about 1$ to get that stubborn tooth pulled out on the spot, no appointment necessary. There's a reason why all my dentists in Montreal were Vietnamese...

Rebel said...

Yankee - I thought the bad teeth was due to lack of dental coverage more than the quality of dentists there.

Jeanette - everyone I know who's used health care in a country that has national coverage has been happy with it. Of course these are generally foreigners who may or may not be paying the taxes to support it.


Jonathan - LOL, that is one solution to the health care problem.