Last week, I broke a tooth. Not just a tiny bit, but the entire back half of my back bottom tooth. I’m all for going ‘native’ when it comes to food, clothes and other things but dentists? Get me a western trained English speaker fast.
I found a Westernized clinic in Hangzhou recommended by some ex-pats. The place was clean, the tools were sterilized and she definitely knew her stuff. The only problem was she wasn’t as fluent in English as the literature led me to believe. After she explained that I was going to need a filling (the tooth broke because of decay) I asked about Novocain. She looked at me blankly.
“You know, Novocain?” I motioned to my jaw. She shook her head.
“It makes me not feel anything?” She still didn’t understand.
“It numbs my mouth,” still nothing.”Umm, tooth medicine?”
This is how I speak every day. I use the normal words first and then slowly regress until the listener knows what I’m talking about.
“Ah yes, you want tooth medicine?” she asked surprised.
“Is it a small cavity?” I asked.
“No, it is very deep, right next to the nerve.”
“Yes, I want tooth medicine.”
Turns out she basically gave me gum numbing goo and the drilling was actually pretty painful. I made her stop halfway through to give me some more ‘tooth medicine’ and while we were waiting for it to kick in I asked if Chinese people ever ask for it. She said never.
“Chinese people have less sensitive nerves I think,” she said.
“Really?” I said. “How can that be possible?”
“Or maybe they have higher pain tolerance,” she shrugged.
“Or we Westerners have a low pain tolerance,” I said. She laughed.
It turns out that she called Novocain ‘deep numbing’ and she only uses it for serious procedures like root canals. The whole thing took about half an hour and cost $60 (It would have cost $45 if I had gone sans medicine).
While I’m happy that I don’t have a Chinese dentist horror story under my belt, I did have a small moment of humiliation. When I first sat down and opened my mouth for her to look she gasp in exclamation.
“So many fillings,” she said half laughing, half in awe.
I mean, sure I don’t have the best teeth but really, she’s a dentist for chrissake, hasn’t she seen a mouth full of metal before?!
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