A Trip to the Dentist

My dental history is not what I would call ideal. Before I started using toothpaste with a prescription level of fluoride in it, every dental check up ended with me making an appointment to take care of at least one cavity that was found during my cleaning. As a result, I have become the paranoid patient. I am a rabid flosser and can be found flossing even in a semi-unconscious state because otherwise guilt and anxiety will haunt me. So, being the diligent dental patient that I am, I decided that I needed to get a check-up before I begin traveling to countries that might not have as reliable dental care as Thailand.

Upon arriving at the clinic, my first task was to make sure that I was in fact at the dental clinic. There was a big sign outside to the right of the building that said Dental Clinic, but it wasn’t very specific as to which building the clinic might be, and I’ve found that every time I feel confident in my ability to determine where or what something might be, I’m proved wrong. There was no need for me to start demanding to see a dentist if I was not actually in a dental clinic after all.

After establishing that I was in the correct building, I then had to figure out why they wouldn’t let me see a dentist. They were trying to convey some kind of problem to me and I was doing my best to understand their Thai. The office is closed. It is Wednesday. The office is closed. No dentists. Come back at five in the evening. Go over there. It seemed odd to me that a clinic wouldn’t open until five, and since my Thai is still a little untrustworthy, I decided to double check with somebody else who hopefully spoke English.

I told the four ladies that I understood and subtly moved to the next window, out of their view, to try again. I began my line of questioning in the same broken Thai, and instead of trying to explain the situation in Thai to me, the woman behind the glass decided to just call an English speaker. I greatly appreciated this, and found that I had understood the first four ladies correctly.

I came back to the clinic at five holding a section of my Thai notes on doctors, hoping that I would be able to effectively convey in Thai what I wanted. Unfortunately, the word for cleaning wasn’t on my vocabulary list, and I realized while I was waiting for them to call my name, that all I could say was want dentist, do I have a cavity? and my tooth hurts.

It occurred to me that if the dentist spoke as much English as the people at the front desk, then I was going to have to find a different way to communicate that I wanted a cleaning, some x-rays, and a check-up. I started thinking of how I would pantomime the word cleaning, and imagined the look on the face of the dentist as he wondered why I wanted to sweep the floor. I decided that if need be, my best bet was to phone a friend.

I made sure to sit front and center in the waiting room, and after a short wait, a dentist came into the room looked directly at me and tried to pronounce my name. I was very relieved to find that my dentist spoke English and explained to him what I wanted. He looked at my teeth for a few moments, told me they looked good and to wait in the waiting room for x-rays to be taken.

Once my x-rays were done, I went back to the waiting room for about thirty minutes, during which I examined the posters on throat ulcers, braces, cavities, and mouth cancer caused by cigarettes. The pictures gave me the heebie jeebies, so I decided to sit and watch the television, which was playing some kind of news report done by a man in drag (aka ladyboy). I was thinking about how wonderfully liberal Thailand is regarding sexuality, when a woman came out and used the staring technique to indicate that it was my turn again.

It was time for the verdict and a cleaning. I sat down and they reclined my seat so far back that my feet were a little bit higher than my head. A towel was laid on my chest, and I was surprised when the assistant unfolded the towel and pulled it up to cover my face. There was a circular hole in the towel leaving only my mouth and nose exposed.

I had to hold back the giggles when the dentist moved the towel a little to expose one of my eyes, so that she could tell me that my x-rays were fine, I had clean teeth, and zero cavities. I was happy to hear that, but wondered how they could tell all of that with just a few molar x-rays and less than a minute of tooth inspection. What about poking my gums with that sharp pokey tool? After complimenting my good dental hygiene, she covered my eye with the towel again and started cleaning.

The trip was successful, although, I don’t necessarily feel that it was thorough enough. I was very happy to find that my silly charades act wasn’t necessary because the dentists spoke great English. And to top it off, it only cost me twenty-six bucks! If you ever find yourself in need of dental care in Thailand, I think you’ll find yourself in good hands. I recommend not looking at the graphic mouth cancer pictures in the waiting rooms though.