Weeklyish Challengey Thingie: Go to the Dentist

April 16, 2012

A few weeks ago, the right side of my jaw started to hurt. I didn’t think too much of it at first. I’ve suffered through plenty of weird mystery pains and ailments since moving to China – a twitchy eyeball, a stiff neck, blotchy skin rashes, an abdomen twinge or two.

I usually just take these as more signs that China is trying to kill me – you know, by slowly turning all my body parts against me.

But then the pain persisted and I knew I’d have to go the dentist’s if I wanted to make it through the month without my face exploding.

I had been meaning to go to the dentist for some time now.

But I kept on putting it off.

Just like I’ve been putting off mailing out these presents to my family. I should probably mention these are Christmas presents. Yes, the Christmas that was in December.

Merry Christmas, family! What's that? It's April? Well, yes, there's that.

I haven’t been putting off the visit because I hate dentists – well, I don’t hate them as a people or anything.

I adored my dentist in Japan. If only because he was one of the few men I met in Japan who wasn’t absolutely petrified to be within a few feet of me.

You see, for some reason, most of the Japanese guys I met seemed to be really intimidated by me – like to the point of bringing along a chaperone when they went on dates with me. I don’t know what on Earth would make them feel that way.

Me? Intimidating? How can that be?

When I’m in the States, I usually go to my childhood dentist. This man knew me back when I had a kid-mullet. He’s like family. Except I have to pay him to hang out with me.

The kid-mullet. From both sides. Fantastic.

No, I don’t hate dentists.

But I do totally hate my teeth.

My teeth suck.

They’re super sensitive, which makes it hard for me to eat really cold food or really hot food or really sweet food. Not like that really stops me, though.


Teeth pain? Bah! I have cream puffs to eat!

My teeth break and chip all the time.

I’ve had more than my fair share of fillings.

And four root canals.

Yes, four.

Part of the problem is that I spent most of my younger years thinking I was immune to stuff like plaque and didn’t bother to floss until I was, like, twenty-five. (Listen to me, kids, floss your teeth already. Take it from this old lady who’s not even sure which teeth are hers anymore.)

Plus, my jaw does this thing at night where it clenches up. So while the rest of my body is in sleep mode, my mouth is set to self-destruct. And, even though I wear a mouth guard while I sleep, all that pressure hasn’t done my incisors any favors.

Pretty much every time I go to the dentist, I’m told that I have some new tooth problem that needs to be fixed.

And, if I happen to be in Asia, this problem is usually fixed with little to no Novocain. Because, apparently in Asia, everyone’s a total bad ass. They’re all like, “Sure, go ahead, pull out as many teeth as you like. But don’t numb me up. I need to sing karaoke later.”

Why let dental work stop this?

The last time I went to the dentist I was in Chiang Mai. After having my teeth cleaned, I was informed that I needed to have one of my fillings replaced.

The dentist cheerily declared, “This is going to be a deep one!” and promptly started drilling.

Like, into my head.

With a very large, loud drilly thing.

It wasn’t until I had started flailing in the chair, that she stopped, looked at me quizzically and asked, “Oh, do you need some painkiller?”

I had heard similar stories about the dentists in China. My friend, MaryAnne, had a dentist in Shanghai drill a hole into her tooth and clean it out with a pointy stick, and the man didn’t even give her a Tylenol.

So, yeah, I can’t say I was too eager to experience my first dental visit in China.

But last week’s trip to the dentist was really not that bad.

It was almost, dare I say it, enjoyable — well, as enjoyable as something like that can be given the fact that the dentist kept poking me in the mouth with a pointy stick.

My dentist’s office turned out to be located in super swish shopping plaza in a ritzy part of town, where all the fancy foreign companies are located.

Ooo, since 2005. Fahhncy.

The plaza had all kinds of fancy places – the kind of places I imagine that people who work at fancy foreign companies like to go to. There was a European deli, an upscale wine shop, some coffee shops, a British pub and some place called “meat restaurant.”

Mmm... meat.

And there was a foot massage place. But only for the young ladies.

No men... or old ladies allowed!

This was quite a change of pace from my neighborhood, where most of the restaurants don’t have fancy stuff like espresso machines or signs in English or, ahem, walls.

Who needs walls when you have tarp?

My dentist’s office was also very fancy and foreign – in fact, it turned out to be part of a Japanese chain of dental clinics.

There was even a little Japanese garden outside. You know, so you can have your moment of Zen before going inside to have someone poke at you with a pointy stick.

Stepping inside the clinic was kind of like stepping out of China and directly into Japan.

Partly because the receptionist greeted me in Japanese when I entered — just like they do at sushi restaurants.

And partly because it was super clean – like even cleaner than Japan. And Japan is really, really clean, so I didn’t think that kind of thing was even possible.

Ooo, shiny.

After I stopped gaping at the weird parallel universe I had just entered, I was handed a form to fill out. The form had the usual questions – about health and previous dental treatments.

Along with a few not so usual questions.

Like, one question asked: “For treatment, what kind of dental material would you like for us to use?”

Then you had to check one of two possible answers.


a. Economical


b. Only the best! Money is no object! In fact, I’m thinking of having all my teeth replaced with diamonds and other semiprecious gems. Can you do that for me? (Okay, it’s possible I paraphrased this second option.)

I checked the “economical” option but secretly wished that I could be one of those people with a fancy job that gives me fancy dental insurance so I could afford fancy dental work. And not fillings made out of the recycled tinfoil and old chewing gum.

After I filled out the form, I was whisked off by the dental hygienist, who was wearing a spotless white uniform and one of those cute little paper nurse’s hats.

My dentist, a fiftyish woman with her hair tidily tucked under a surgical cap, greeted me in perfect English and then took me to the X-ray room.

She studied my X-rays and poked around at my molars and then asked me if I had gotten my last root canal in Japan. (Seriously, who knew these things were culturally sensitive?)

She then declared that my face was not going to explode.

I didn’t even need another root canal or a new filling.

All I needed was a shiny, new mouth guard.

After she cleaned my teeth, she stuffed this putty into my mouth to fit me for my new mouth guard and told me to come back in a week to pick it up.

I got my new mouth guard on Friday, and I have to say it’s pretty sweet – a lot less noticeable and much more lightweight than my old one so it doesn’t make me look quite as much like a quarterback like my old one used to.

See? You can barely tell my teeth are covered in plastic... right?

I’d like to think this is because it’s made of some kind of state-of-the-art dental material imported directly from Japan. And not, say, plastic wrap and hot glue.

Considering my dentist’s visit was such a success, I think it’s about time I got around to doing all the other tasks that have been clogging up my to-do list for months.

Like, maybe, I’ll finally send out those packages to my family. After all, Arbor Day is coming up, and you never can get enough Arbor Day presents, can you? I know I can’t.

Have you ever put something off for a really long time… and then it didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as you thought it was going to be?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On April 16, 2012 at 9:30 am David S. Wills said:

    I’ve always been terrified of the dentist, but had to go to a Hefei one a few months ago (http://davidswills.com/?p=1640). It really wasn’t that bad, aside from the fact that they check your teeth by hitting then with a metal stick.

    In the end she gave me drugs in lieu of drilling, which is always nice, and sent me on my merry way. I’m not sure that I didn’t need the drilling, but I’m always happy to avoid it.

    • On April 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm Sally said:

      Yes, I got the metal stick too. That’s how she determined my face wasn’t going to explode. It didn’t seem very scientific to me, but, hey, I’m no dentist. Obviously! I was just happy I didn’t need another root canal. Those are not fun without Novocain!

  2. On April 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    “Have you ever put something off for a really long time… and then it didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as you thought it was going to be?”

    Uh, does… reading your blog count? ;D

    ******** JUST KIDDING!!! ********

    But seriously. You and I must be in some sort of parallel universe ‘cuz:

    “I had been meaning to go to the dentist for some time now.”

    I too have every intention of hitting a dentist here in Saigon. I um, just keep putting it off.

    I can only hope that my turn at the drill here in Asia turns out to be as painless as yours.
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Livin’ on the Cheap in Asia

    • On April 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm Sally said:

      Well, obviously you didn’t put off reading it THAT long as I just published the thing… and, hey, it wasn’t that bad, now was it? 🙂 Good luck with the dentist visit! I suggest rewarding yourself with cake afterwards. I did!

  3. On April 16, 2012 at 2:23 pm Charlie said:

    You are going to hate me! I mean it, you will. I put off going to the dentist for twenty years. Yep! Finally some good meaning meanie dragged me in. The pointy stick was involved and they did a really painful (on a scale of ten, about two) cleaning while we waited for the x-rays to come back. Then the man in the white coat said “Your teeth are fine”. Guess that means I can wait another 20!

  4. On April 16, 2012 at 5:22 pm Priya said:

    Ah and we are back to the dentist topic! I don’t floss, which one of the reasons why need to go to the dentist. I know for a fact I need fillings ( yes, fillings as in plural), and gum treatment, and later down the line wisdom teeth pulled out. ( ouch.) Sigh. I need to find a dentist who not only is pain-free, doesn’t use needles but will let me light candles in the room while blasting Mariah. There has to be a dentist like this out there somewhere. BTW: Rock the mouth guard and bring back the mullet!
    Priya recently posted..What I’ve Been Doing With My Life Since My Last Blog Post/ Almost Getting Evicted

    • On April 17, 2012 at 2:20 am Sally said:

      Please, for the love of Mariah, floss already! Seriously, I did a lot of stupid stuff in my youth, but not flossing is probably my biggest regret. I would have saved myself LOTS of money had I been a bit more proactive about my dental health.
      Now I’m kind of a floss freak. My Japanese dentist actually told me I need to floss less… so, yeah, I guess I’m not very good at moderation. It’s either all or nothing for me.

  5. On April 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm Mira @ NingboNights said:

    I need to go back to the dentist, too. I’ve actually been putting off sending my bill from my last treatment to my insurance company, obviously shooting myself in my own financial foot, whoops! Actually, my dentist only accepts cash which my insurance company doesn’t believe and they want some sort of proof that I’ve really paid other than the hand-written receipt I got from the dentist…aaah, it’s China, you stupid insurance people!
    Mira @ NingboNights recently posted..Ruth and Kenny in China aka How to see as much of China in 10 days (Part 1).

    • On April 17, 2012 at 2:19 am Sally said:

      Insurance? Wow. Fahhncy! Sadly, I don’t have any dental insurance in China, but I find the dental treatments here are so much cheaper than in the States (even with dental insurance in the States) that it’s not a big problem. Like the mouth guard cost me about 1/5 of what it would cost me in the States. So I should probably just go ahead and have a whole bunch more root canals done here as lord knows I’m going to need them & I won’t be able to afford them when I go home!

  6. On April 17, 2012 at 1:19 am Josh Ong said:

    Went to the dentist in Beijing last week because of a toothache. They gave me two options: 1. pull out a crown, dig into the root and hope they can clean out the infection 2. take antibiotics and wait (while I sleep more and drink more water). I chose #2.
    Josh Ong recently posted..On Moving (aka How to Procrastinate Moving by Blogging)

    • On April 17, 2012 at 2:15 am Sally said:

      Wow. That doesn’t even sound like a choice. “Do you want us to dig into your face with sharp, pointy objects or not?” Umm, hello? Who would choose that first option?

  7. On April 17, 2012 at 7:25 am Brandi Dawn Henderson said:

    HA! No foot spa for old ladies! Brilliant.

  8. On April 17, 2012 at 9:29 am furio said:


    the dentist cabin I went in China was all shiny as well.

    The walls AND the clothes of the 434324 nurses were pink and I felt like I was in a Love Motel or, at least, a KTV full of xiaomeimei (prostitutes).

    Overall a funny experience. This is China ; )

    • On April 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm Sally said:

      Wow, I don’t think my dentist’s office was nearly so sexy. I did like the little nurse’s hats that the hygienist was wearing. I thought that was a nice touch.

  9. On April 17, 2012 at 11:08 am Selly said:

    Have to applaud you, I have such an irrational fear of dentists that my dentist in Germany used to put me on the happy pill just to do a check up otherwise chances I’d open my mouth would range between slim to nonexistent. I dragged my friend along to hold my hand up to the age of 18 and for four out of the seven years I’m in Ireland I used to fly home to see my dentist until I found this brilliant one here in Ireland whom I adore. It helps that he studied in Germany, speaks German and is pretty much the best dentist I can think of. I will shamelessly admit that I would probably fly back to Ireland to go see him no matter where in the world I’d be located, I’m a wuss when it comes to dentists! Glad your visit was mostly painless, Sally, and that it was only a little thing really that you needed to have done!

    • On April 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm Sally said:

      Happy pills? I didn’t know dentists were able to give out happy pills! I want some!

      • On April 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm Selly said:

        It came in the form of a drink and made me deliriously happy and carefree. Not giggly or anything like that but I felt pretty drugged up. In hindsight I can’t actually remember if I ever inquired what exactly it was my dentist had me swallow!

  10. On April 18, 2012 at 8:37 am Ayngelina said:

    Oh dude I would never do this without an English dentist, it’s hard enough to communicate in English when they try to talk to you!
    Ayngelina recently posted..The Pineapple Express

    • On April 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm Sally said:

      Alas, if I waited to get my teeth checked until I was in the States, I’d probably have even more trouble with them than I do already. Plus, it’s so much cheaper here than in the States… probably because they’re saving lots of money on painkillers. 🙂

  11. On April 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm Sabrina said:

    I hate going to the dentist. The only time it approached almost enjoyable was when I had my first experience with laughing gas. I was floating! When I went a few weeks ago for TWO fillings I went into total baby mode, told my dentist that I hated being there, was terrified, and would he please make sure to give me enough local anesthetics so that I wouldn’t feel a thing. I even had him give me some more because I felt like too much time had passed between the first time he gave me some and the time he started drilling… yes, I’m a baby…. and I’m pretty sure he hates me… but, hey! I did it without the laughing gas this time!
    Sabrina recently posted..Popular Drinks in Germany

    • On April 19, 2012 at 10:48 am Sally said:

      Laughing gas? I want laughing gas! Now, THAT sounds like a fun time at the Dentist’s!

      • On April 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm Sabrina said:

        I know, right? Apparently it’s illegal in Germany and is/was legal here in Texas. I was kind of surprised when she asked me if I wanted some and didn’t have to think before saying “YES PLEASE”. It was weird because you really kind of start grinning and think every last bit is funny and just don’t really care anymore. I remember at a certain point kind of leaning into the drill because I thought it felt funny… that and concentrating on bloddy autopsy pics from CSI on the screen to keep myself from laughing out loud. Weird experience!
        Sabrina recently posted..Texas Weekend Getaway: Galveston Beaches

  12. On April 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm dtravelsround said:

    I skipped, like 4 years of going to the dentist this one time (college years). When I finally went, I was so amped so about it, my dentist provided me Valium. Now, I’m ok with it. But then? Not a chance.
    dtravelsround recently posted..Escape of the Week: Pioneertown, California

  13. On April 19, 2012 at 6:35 am Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures said:

    Hooray for Japanese-inspired dentists in China! And hooray for no serious dental problems! I’m so glad your experience was better than my Emergency Room experience in China which was just downright weird…

    I went in because I was having an asthma attack and they literally did not know what to do with me. After a blood test and a chest x-ray and a bit of a run around, they asked “So, do you want some oxygen?” I laughed and left, with 3 mystery medications I was given that even the internet could not identify. Needless to say, I did not take them…
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..Scammed at the Great Pyramids of Giza: How You Can Avoid Being Bamboozled!

    • On April 19, 2012 at 10:50 am Sally said:

      Gah. How scary! I’ve heard some major horror stories about going to the hospital in China. I’ve only had to go for a checkup & it was actually a pretty pleasant experience (well, as pleasant as it can be). I am scared though of having any kind of emergency that would require real hospitalization. Good for you for surviving! 🙂

  14. On April 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm Lauren said:

    I dislike the dentist too but surprisingly found my dentist experience in Spain easier and faster than in the States. who would have thought? I even had my first root canal here and could only communicate in Spanish because he didn’t speak any English…

    he had thought I already had a root canal and was telling me my only option was too pull the tooth!
    Lauren recently posted..In the Classroom: Playing Charades

    • On April 20, 2012 at 4:51 am Sally said:

      Omigod, I’m so glad my dentists have all been able to speak really good English. I think if I had to communicate with my dentists in a foreign language I would have definitely ended up with a lot less teeth than I have now!

  15. On April 20, 2012 at 5:12 am Ceri said:

    I don’t think there’s a chance in hell you’ll catch me going to the dentists here. Hahaha. But good on ya for being brave and sorting out your pain! 😀 I hate dentists so much.

    Have you sent those gifts yet? 😉
    Ceri recently posted..Why Americans Never Leave the States

  16. On April 20, 2012 at 8:44 am Megan said:

    I actually kind of looked forward to going to the dentist in BKK because it was SO NICE THERE. Like, crazy. And the dentist actually cleaned my teeth, instead of the hygienist! Gah, sometimes I miss Thailand.

  17. On April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am choi kum fook said:

    I just did not bother or took care of my teeth before the age of 36. So as the result,at present,half of my molars had gone.The upper incisors are replaced by false “bridged- teeth”, installed twenty years ago by a very famous dentist in Kuantan. It cost a lot then, but worth for it.I do not find any troublesome after using for twenty years! Miss Sally, your teeth were quite tidy and nice-looking when you was in the farm.Prevention is better than cure. You are not too late to take care your teeth now! Ha!Ha! No matter how good the dentist is, bear in mind,the real tooth is always better than false one!!

  18. On April 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm Heather said:

    I used to be petrified of the dentist when I was younger. Scared silly. And of getting shots at the doctor’s office. When I was 18 and needed to get one or two before college, the poor nurse had to talk to me like I was a child to get me through it. Thankfully her kindness changed something inside my head and now I don’t mind (too much) when I need to get jabbed.

    Let me know if you meet someone who gets the “cost is no object” treatment!! Glad you didn’t have to break the bank for drilling and surgeries!

    • On April 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm Sally said:

      I know. I think I’m going to have to ask that of the men I meet… “So when paying for dental treatments, do you even look at the bill or are you like, ‘Whatever. Only the best.’?”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge