BE 3: Dental Care in Korea

As you can see, I’m a day late on finishing day 3 of Blog/Vlog Ember. Last night I decided to take a nap after work, but it turned into me sleeping all night. Oops! Today, I will try to complete two posts, and subsequently, two videos on my Youtube channel as well. Today’s topic is about my recent experiences with dental health in Korea.

Step 1: Making the appointment. I currently am not fluent in Korean enough to do this task by myself over the phone (in person I draw pictures and use a translation app), so I need to rely on the kindness of my co-teachers to help me. In this particular case, I was asking a co-teacher about dental clinic hours in Korea because I’d read that some clinics can be open up until 8pm or 9pm on weeknights and sometimes on Saturday. After a conversation, I ended up with an appointment at a dental clinic that my co-t knew about. However, I will note that this is not the place I wanted visit, but decided to go with the flow and check out her recommendation.

Step 2: Last Saturday, Oct 28th, I went to my first ever dental appointment in Korea. When I arrived there was a bit of confusion because the reservation was under the dentist’s friend’s name (who is my co-t’s co-worker) and not mine. The receptionist had to make sure it was okay for me to be seen, so she went in back and talked to the dentist. All of this was communicated through gestures, my limited Korean, her limited English, and translator apps. All in all, a normal everyday interaction and all is good.

The dentist briefly checks my teeth and I explain to her about my issues, my periodontal disease, my partial dentures, etc. After x-rays are taken of the teeth I have left (which is my canines and most of my molars). Then the dentist and I talk about the x-rays, my periodontal disease, and where I’m currently having pain. She suggests that I get a cleaning/scaling done to see if my gums will heal or bounce back a bit due to the periodontal disease. I agree to do this (which is common practice for me in America) and we agree to meet the next Saturday to see the results and then talk about what kind of treatment plan we’ll proceed with next (also common with dentists in America for me).

Step 3: The cleaning/scaling. I DESPISE cleanings. I’d rather have the dentist numb me to oblivion and perform major dental work on my teeth anytime, any day, ever. Because of my periodontal disease and the cavities on my molars, my mouth is quite sensitive and cleanings often mean pain, especially when those metal picks are involved. Ugh. However, this cleaning turned out to be the best one of my life. It was virtually painless, minus a couple of super sensitive spots, and actually relaxing. The dental technician placed a green surgical cloth over my face that had a hole cut out around the mouth. Then she mostly used the water pick to clean my teeth. She used the metal picks once or twice on a couple of teeth, but that was it. There was no polishing. One of my friends, that went to a different dental clinic, mentioned that he didn’t get a polishing on his teeth during his cleaning, so I assume that is common practice in Korea to not polish teeth. The cleaning and x-rays are 21,000 won (approx $18.83 USD). Overall, it was a great a experience.

Step 4: Return visit to re-evaluate my gums. Today I returned to the dental clinic to see if the cleaning helped my gums heal or if it didn’t really do anything. I’m completely under the impression that no work will be done on my teeth and that this is a follow up consultation visit on what kind of treatment plan we’ll put in place.

Then things don’t go as planned. However, that is not what happened. When I arrive, the office is packed with people sitting and standing for their turn. The previous week, there were a few people waiting to be seen by the dentist, so I was seen on time. This week, though, my appointment is at 3pm, but I’m not called back to the dentist chair until 340pm. By this time, almost every patient before and after me has seen the dentist or dental assistant. I’m a bit mad but stick around out politeness. Once I’m in the dentist chair (340pm), I wait another 20 minutes before the dentist rushes over to look at my teeth. Immediately she begins tapping at the tooth that I’d said was causing a bit of pain. We talk about the tooth. I’m under the impression that she is going to talk about each tooth and the treatment plan, so I go along with it. She tells me I will need an endodontic treatment for that tooth. I’ve never heard that term before, so I say ok, thinking that she’ll continue on with her evaluation. Then she says something to the dental assistant in Korean. The dental assistant leaves and comes back with a needle to numb me. “Whoa! Not today!”, I say. Even though we’re both speaking English, I’ve misunderstood what she is saying/meant. She wants to start the crown (ah so that’s what it means) process today, but I’m thinking we were just  going to talk about my issues and come up with a plan. I end up leaving shortly after because I truly don’t have the money at the moment for a crown, and don’t feel comfortable after the misunderstanding.

Side note: Even though the follow up visit didn’t go as I’d planned or thought it would, I still recommend this dental clinic to any of my Korean friends/co-workers and foreigners that have normal issues (like cleanings and regular cavities). However, I feel that when it comes to periodontal issues, the clinic doesn’t have enough experience with patients with this problem. I personally don’t feel comfortable continuing at that clinic. I will make my own appointment this time at the dental clinic I originally wanted to visit that my friends have gone to, along with quite a few foreigners in town. Hopefully, this time, it’ll go more smoothly without misunderstandings. 🙂

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