It’s really easy to dodge going to the dentist’s as an adult, and easier still to rationalise or ignore that decision entirely. Living in China is no different, although it’s actually way easier to take care of than a Western country – there are no months-long waiting lists and no need for registration. You can just turn up and get to it.
That said, I still left it about six years between getting my teeth checked out, and the last one was a simple cleaning. This was obviously a poor decision – even more so when you consider than I am a smoker and a three-cups-a-day coffee drinker.
I had originally intended this trip to be nothing more than a cleaning, but best laid plans and all that…
More than a cleaning
One of the great things about going to the dentist’s in China is that there’s no waiting around – you rock up and are immediately ushered into a consultation room, complete with all the dental trappings we know and love. My assigned dentist went straight to work showing me the back of my teeth, and I conceded that I may possibly have left it too long. I’m here to tell you that six years of accumulated nicotine and caffeine is not a pretty sight; the back of my teeth looked like the keel of a decommissioned cruise ship.
After a more thorough examination, my attending dentist informed me of a few more issues: I had a cavity and a wisdom tooth that was encroaching a bit too much for comfort. I was gobsmacked by the former revelation; it had been a point of pride for me that, during my childhood and early adulthood, I had never needed a filling. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? Unfortunately cold hard facts trump delusional wishful thinking, and I had to add a filling to the list of indignities that would be undergone that day.
Having a stranger rummage around in your mouth is seldom a pleasant experience, but as the dentist went to work I was reminded that I ought to get my teeth cleaned slightly more than twice a decade. It took him a good hour to fully clean them, and several times I was directed to spit a worrying amount of blood into the dental spittoon. It wasn’t overly painful, but there were a couple of times I flinched as the drill touched a couple of particularly sensitive bits.
Upon completion of the cleaning, it was now time to address the cavity I had in one of my back teeth. The dentist presented me with three choices of filling, from budget to high-end German mouth-plaster. I opted for the cheapest, the coffers not exactly running over with funds for Teutonic teeth-Technik.
The dentist estimated ten or so minutes to do the filling; after twenty-plus minutes of scraping something out of the inside of the tooth, followed by actually whacking the filling in, I was done. He advised me to avoid overly cold or hot beverages for a few hours and not to eat on that side of my mouth for the rest of the day.
It was not overly cheap; the teeth cleaning came to around 400 RMB (60 USD) and the filling was around 240 RMB (35 USD). I have absolutely no idea how much this compares to Western prices, but it certainly left a hole in my wallet.
One of the good things about stepping outside your comfort zone in China is that you do learn some new vocabulary. All of which I have now forgotten and will promptly Google:
Filling: 充填 chong tian/补牙 bu ya
Cavity/tooth decay: 龋齿 qu chi
Wisdom tooth: 智牙 zhi ya
Dentist: 牙医 ya yi (lit. ‘tooth doctor’)
Teeth cleaning: 洗牙 xi ya
Sadist: 施虐狂 shi nüe kuang (lit. ‘bestow abuse lunatic’)
Dental floss: 牙线 ya xian (lit. ‘tooth wire’)
Toothbrush: 牙刷 ya shua
You’re not putting that fucking thing in my mouth: 你别放他妈的东西在我嘴里 ni bie fang ta ma de dongxi zai wo zui li
Toothpaste: 牙膏 ya gao