Friday, March 23, 2012

Like Pulling Teeth

Last week I went to the dentist.  I like going to the dentist.  I like that squeaky-clean feeling after my teeth get a good power-washing.  I don’t get freaked out by the shiny pointy devices they use to poke and scrape around in my mouth.  I just like knowing my teeth are in good working order.
So, after six months living in Taiwan, I decided it was time for that semi-annual check up.  Thanks to my roommates calling the clinic for me, I got an appointment set up for the NEXT DAY!  None of this, “let’s book your visit for 5 months from now” crap Dental Associates puts me through back in Milwaukee.  Also, since I work until 9pm all week, my appointment was at 9:20pm!  Can you imagine?  
The next day after work, I walked down the street to the dentist with my roommate Muni.  She helped me fill out the paperwork (and of course, by “helped” I mean “she did it for me because I can barely speak, let alone read or write, Chinese”).  I flashed my National Health Insurance card, paid $100NT (less than $4US), and sat down to wait for my name to be called.  
When my turn came, I was ushered off to the X-ray area.  That’s right, X-rays are included, no additional fee.  Your typical hilarity ensued as the very kind hygienist attempted to position me and the machine and that little x-ray film thing in my mouth while speaking little-to-no English.  And we all know how much Chinese I know.  We worked it out, and only as the machine was rotating around my head, emitting death rays towards me, did I realize that I had failed to put on the lead vest to protect my vital organs from the lethal beams.  Oops.
Next up was the examination chair.  Mostly, it was your garden-variety dental cubical, except they had a personal TV for me to watch during the wait.  I spent the next 3 minutes glued to an episode of Chinese-dubbed Spongebob Squarepants.  Very relaxing.
The dentist came over and was obviously nervous having me in his care.  He spoke more English than he gave himself credit for, and he made every effort to make sure I understood what was going on.  I assured him I was not a nervous patient.  He did the normal poking and prodding, analyzed the x-rays, and told me I had a small cavity way in the back.  Then he grabbed one of the electric silver tools and started in towards my mouth.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, there mister!”  I was freaking out!  Was he about to drill that cavity out??!! Right now?!  No Novocain?!  What’s going on??!!
A lot of miming, pointing, sound effects, weird facial expressions, and a little help from a nearby hygienist later, and I realized the tool he was holding was only a water pik.  He was just starting the cleaning.  So much for not being a nervous patient.
The cleaning was quick (and painless), but it was not the same as at home.  Basically he just scraped around with that pointy thing and then used the water pik in all the crevices.  No high-fluoride, squeaky cleaning with that little nobby tool.  (Wow, I know nothing about dental equipment).  Either way, I was cleaned up and sent on my way back to reception to make an appointment for that little cavity.
I scheduled my filling for the next Monday.  I’ve only had one other cavity in my adult teeth, so I was a bit more nervous about this trip to the dentist.  My main concern was that he used the white filling material, not that tacky silver crap.  I don’t want anyone to KNOW I had cavity when I unhinge my jaw in one of my huge laughing fits.  Vanity first, people.
I shelled out another $100NT, and sat down in the chair.  The same dentist (poor guy) attended to my filling.  I think he had been practicing the English dialogue because he used terms like “pulp” and “dentin.”  After a little more poking and scraping, he told me it was time to start.
“Ummmmmm, where’s the Novocaine???”  Again, I am not a cavity expert, but isn’t the drilling into my head part going to hurt?  Isn’t this the part in horror movies when they cut away because everyone will throw up from the pain of seeing someone undergoing dental work without meds?
Little did I know, small cavities don’t require numbness.  He just went in there with that little drill, buzzed out the decay, and apparently stayed a safe distance away from my nerve endings.
Once again, the Taiwanese have impressed me.  Timely appointments, friendly staff, reasonable prices, expert work, and no screaming pain.  Oh, and beautiful, tooth-coloring fillings.
Xie xie, Dentist Man.

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