About 3 weeks ago I lost a filling in an upper molar. Did I dare go to a dentist in China? I contacted International SOS, a company that provides medical assistance to members in foreign countries, asking for a recommendation of a dentist in Xiamen. Their terse reply – we cannot recommend anyone in Xiamen and suggest you go to Hong Kong for non-emergency dental work. Hmm, doesn’t seem worth it just to get a filling done. I asked around the ex-pat community and got some recommendations, and then dilly-dallied around since the tooth wasn’t offering any pain. And then Tuesday I lost ANOTHER filling in a lower molar! I figured I better do something about the gaping holes (it’s amazing how your tongue just can’t leave the huge cavities alone and how large those suckers feel!). I made an appointment for this afternoon.
I wish I had some exotic tale of Eastern medicine, acupuncture needles, and pungent Chinese herbal medicine. Instead, I went to a very modern dental clinic and got perfectly modern dental care (in fact, Xiamen residents, I highly recommend Yao Dental Clinic)! The only surprise was how long it took – it’s been a long time since I had a filling, much less two fillings, but it took the dentist almost TWO HOURS of working pretty continuously to do the fillings. And none of this give-a-shot-and-disappear-for-20-minutes stuff I see at home – he gave me the shots (4 of them, but those were the only needles in sight!) and waited only a few moments before my mouth became numb. Then we drilled and drilled and drilled to remove the remains of the old fillings. Well, there was one other surprise -- it only cost 580RMB (about $75).
The oddest part of the whole experience was having the dentist and the hygienist chatter continuously in Chinese while working on me. Now, not being able to understand what people are saying around me is an extremely familiar experience for me these days. But it feels a little different when someone is drilling holes in your head. And at times my imagination would run away with me and I’d start believing they were finding some dread problem with my teeth . . . when they were probably just talking about last night’s episode of “Desperate Housewives!” (It could well have been “Desperate Housewives” – a student in class today told me all about an episode she saw that seemed related to today’s lesson!)
Luckily for me the dentist spoke English, but he broke the usual dentist mold and didn’t try to carry on a conversation with me while his hands were in my mouth! He basically spoke two words to me while he was working: “Relax” (yeah, right!); and “Sensitive?” asked each time I so much as twitched!
One funny thing – while I waited for my x-rays to develop, I picked up a book in the waiting room called, “English for Nurses.” It was obviously used to help the staff talk to English-speaking patients, since the word doctor was marked out and the word dentist substituted throughout. I was randomly flipping through it when I found this exchange:
Patient: I think I may be pregnant. Will you examine me, please?
Nurse: My pleasure. Please take off your shoes.
What?! In China they can tell if you’re pregnant by looking at your feet?! I turned the page and the nurse’s dialogue continued:
Nurse: First I must weigh you and measure you.
So much for the mysteries of Eastern medicine!