The dentist.

A good friend of mine (and far better blogger) recently wrote about her visit to the dentist in Korea and her post prompted me to write about my own (singular) experience. I’m even using the same title as her, because, well, it says it all!

I’ve never particularly hated the dentist, though it took a long time for me to find one that I felt completely comfortable with and I’ve been going to her since 2001. I was really fortunate and didn’t need to go to the dentist during my first year in Korea. When I visited home between contracts, I went for a check-up and everything was in good, working order.

You know how the dentist always tells you to floss? Well, I never do. And the one time I did, I chipped a filling. Talk about failing at dental self-care! I was perfectly adamant that I’d deal with it when I went home in May. This was at the beginning of March – not the best logic.

But I had my reasons!

My teeth are really special, and I trust my own dentist implicitly to do what’s best in my mouth. I would sooner not eat than be unfaithful to her.

I am so over the communication frustration when seeking health/medical care in Korea. The novelty of being a foreigner apparently never wears off, and after almost two years of regular interactions (yes, regular – remember my back injury) with medical professionals giggling away because I’m in the room, I just wasn’t in the mood for any more of it.

Several sources have described dentistry in Korea as a money-making endeavour. From what I’ve heard from friends and blogs, dentists will insist on the most extreme treatment. A friend was once told that she had eight cavities that required fillings and when she returned home a few weeks later, her dentist told her they’re nothing more than stains and promptly polished them away. Many people that I’ve spoken to who went to the dentist here, had root canal treatments done. Now I know it’s a real thing, but in all my years of problem teeth, I’d never needed one. A friend of mine who lost a filling had a root canal done – and it cost her half a million won (R5,000)!

Another Korean oddity is that dentists cover the patient’s face with one of those surgical cloths with an opening for the area they’re working on (in this case, the mouth). I’m all for being treated as more than a set of teeth, so having my eyes covered during any procedure I was conscious and awake for didn’t exactly appeal to me.

A few days after my filling chipped, the rest of it broke off, too. I envisioned making the trek to Seoul that weekend to see a dentist who specialises in treating foreigners (read: charges astronomical rates for speaking English). But after a day of painful eating efforts, I headed to a dentist in Munsan and hoped for the best.

It felt like walking into an upmarket spa. The decor was very modern and after reporting to reception (read: handing her my ARC and not ever speaking to each other), I had a seat in one of the most comfortable sofas imaginable. If I wasn’t so hungry, I’d have had a nap for sure! There was a sink with disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste for some pre-visit freshening up, as well as a water dispenser and tea and coffee facilities. After waiting less time than it took to watch an infomercial on the giant TV in the waiting room, I was escorted to the next room, which had a row of dentist’s chairs separated by glass dividers. Each of the five chairs had it’s own TV (!!!) and I could finish watching the infomercial. 😛

After a bit of a wait, the dentist came over. His English was more than adequate for us to communicate, so at least I wasn’t anxious about that anymore. After taking an x-ray and showing me that the tooth wasn’t damaged by the filling coming out, he squirted ice water on my tooth and knocked at it with his little hammer to test the sensitivity. I explained that I only experienced discomfort when chewing, and no, there was no temperature sensitivity. His assessment? “You will need root canal treatment.” I kindly turned him down, and said that a regular filling would do just fine. After some back and forth, and me promising to get a root canal in South Africa, he surrendered and 15 minutes and 10,000 won (R100) later, I had a brand new temporary filling. And even better – he didn’t cover my face with the little cloth! I left, mentally preparing for three months of soft foods…

I’m pleased to report that six weeks and plenty of popcorn later, said temporary filling is still going strong (touch wood!).


And if you’re curious, you can read all about Shauna’s experience at the dentist here.