Today, I went to see a dentist. Yes, I have a toothache. I went to the same dentist’s office I have been to every time since I have been in Korea. Another dentist used to be in this office, and I was sad when they moved. Because I was a professor at a Christian university, the last dentist in this office gave me a discount. That isn’t why I began going there, though. I began going there because I am a foreigner and really don’t know one dentist’s office from another here, and this dentist’s office is in a convenient place. They told me they would be moving and tried to tell me where they were going, but I couldn’t find their new office. However, another dentist moved into their old office, so I continued going to the same place. The last time I went to the dentist with a toothache, they X-rayed it, told me there was just some inflammation, put medicine on it, and sent me home. It was better, so I was hoping for the same today. However, today was a different story.
The first thing you need to know about going to the dentist in Korea is that they don’t speak English. Either you have to speak Korean or take a translator with you. The last dentist who was in this office spoke English even though the dental technicians and the lady at the front desk couldn’t. However, these guys in that office now don’t speak English. I speak Korean, but not great, and they got complicated on me today, so the dentist began drawing pictures for me. Korean is not an easy language. When I was teaching Koreans English in America, they were always far behind the other students, and it wasn’t because they were dumb. It was because there is a huge difference between Korean and English. The gap is so big that many of them study English, but can’t learn it, and most of us don’t even consider learning Korean. The military personnel I have made friends with here have told me that the American government classifies Korean as the second hardest language in the world for English speakers. I could tell the dentist today know some English, but only a few words. She probably studied it in school, but couldn’t do much with it.
Things were clean and modern in the office. After the receptionist got through to me, they showed me to a room where they took an X-ray of my teeth. Next, they showed me to a room where there was a dental chair. The dental assistant lined up the dental tools next to me, then she took my glasses and my purse and put them across the room.
I had to sit and wait. I heard the dentist in the next room drilling on someone else’s teeth. Finally, the dentist came in. She tried to explain to me what was wrong with my tooth. It was going to take much more than putting medicine on it and sending me home this time.
If you look at the X-ray of my teeth, there is a gap in my teeth because I am missing a tooth. From what I could understand, what they were going to have to do today was to prevent that from happening to me again. That happened when I was in Romania.
I went to a Romanian dentist with a toothache. He was at some sort of big Communist dental hospital. The Romanian dentist looked at my teeth and told me they were perfect, so there was nothing for him to do. I was puzzled about the toothache, but I took his word for it because I was not very experienced with dentists. After that, we visited America for a couple of months. My tooth continued to hurt and seemed to be hurting more. I was at my brother’s house, and he suggested I may need a root canal because there was no cavity anyone could see. I called a dentist in America to find out how much a root canal would cost thinking I would make an appointment, but the prices they quoted me were terrible! They were way out of my price range! I chose to wait until I returned to Romania where it was cheaper.
The day we arrived home in Romania, my tooth broke. I went to the dentist right away, but this time, there was a new privately owned dentist’s office in our town, so I went there. The private dentist’s office was much cleaner and nicer than the Communist one I had been to. That dentist said she would have to operate. Evidently, my tooth had rotted from he inside like the one the dentist discovered today is doing. Even though my tooth had broken, she was going to try to save it.
The Romanian dentist did what she called operation, and it was hard, but I went through with it. I always wonder if what she was calling “operation” would have been called a root canal in America. After she operated, my mouth swelled up and the swelling wouldn’t go away. The tooth just refused to get better. I was in pain. The dentist was at a loss because she said she had never seen anything like it. She wasn’t sure how to save it. I remembered Brita, my Irish friend who was a nurse at Nigerian Christian Hospital when I was in Nigeria. I ran into her again later in Abilene, Texas, and she was missing a tooth. She told me it was thanks to the mistake of a Nigerian dentist. The Romanian dentist said one way to fix the tooth was to just remove it, and I accepted it. I let her remove it. She offered a false tooth to replace it, but it was very expensive, and my husband talked me out of pursuing it any more, so I ended up with a gap in my teeth. My tooth got better, but I have had a gap every since. I wanted to get that false tooth since I came here, but when I asked, it was still pretty expensive, and I thought I might do it some day, but I never have.
Today, though, I began the process of preventing that kind of thing from happening to me again. The dentist told me it will take four appointments to fix the tooth, and it isn’t cheap. In the end, it will cost me a thousand dollars. However, I know I am getting the best care and I won’t have another big gap in my teeth.