Korean Dentists & Love Teeth

April 01, 2014

So I finally got over my fear of the dentist and bit the bullet (ha-ha half puns). Being in Korea adds an obvious language barrier into an already-scary situation but I knew I had to deal with my one remaining wisdom tooth. Luckily, the dentist I was referred to spoke enough English and was amazing.

During my Wednesday consultation, I explained that I thought my wisdom tooth should be removed. I was sent into another room for a quick x-ray before the dentist agreed that it should come out. He asked if I wanted to remove it then and there and he wasn't joking. Because I had to work the next day, I asked if I could come in on Friday so I would have a weekend to recover. The appointment was scheduled and I was out of there in 10 minutes with a bill of $5 for the x-ray.

During my Friday appointment, one of the hygienists ushered me toward the same chair as my consultation which was pretty out in the open (who needs walls or doors). I sat down in the chair at 6:37 and was out by 6:50. When the dentist told me to rinse, I had to ask if it was finished. I'm still astonished by the fact that I felt nothing; no pain, no pressure, no cracking. Once at the reception desk, the dentist wrote me a prescription and explained that I should keep ice on my face and be careful with what I eat. The bill for the procedure was $15 and the prescription (+ mouthwash) was another $5.

A typical prescription of drugs in individually-packed dosages. I googled the marking of each pill to discover that one was a painkiller/anti-inflammatory, one was an antibiotic, and one remains a mystery.

** Fun Fact: In Korea, wisdom teeth are referred to as "love teeth" (사랑니) having something to do with young adulthood and the pain of first love. Good riddance, I suppose. There's a song by girl group, f(x), called 첫 사랑니 (First Love Tooth) which sports lyrics like "Even if you struggle to pull me out, that spot will be empty forever". **

Having had one wisdom tooth removed in Canada, I had a general idea of what to expect. A big difference between Canada and Korea, however, is that Canada uses nitrous oxide gas to put you at ease and Korea doesn't. In Korea, I had ~3 injections of local anesthetic which was probably the most painful part of the entire ordeal (but not any more painful than any injection I've ever had).

Another difference was the magnitude of the situation. Despite being in a different country, I felt that the atmosphere around the procedure in Korea is much less of a big deal. It's a pretty routine thing in any country, I think, but in Canada I feel like I had to schedule the appointment weeks in advance which loomed over me. My dentist in Korea was very down-to-earth and calm and just did the job.

Lastly: the cost of the whole thing. I had my first wisdom tooth out in Canada while I had health insurance as a student but I still think it cost me $200 just for one tooth and just for the procedure. I do have insurance in Korea through my job but I honestly don't know what the coverage is. I think most of the cost in Canada comes from the anesthetic which, as I've learned in Korea, is not entirely necessary if the dentist does his job well.

After two days of ice packs and pumpkin porridge (호박죽), I was back to work. A perk of the whole situation was getting sympathy from my students to make for a more peaceful class; This perk didn't last long.


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