An Unexpected Trip …

… to – of all places – the DENTIST!

We’ve all heard the stories about people coming to Thailand to take care of dental issues. I didn’t come here for that reason. But still, I was in the dentist’s office today and now, back at my guest house, I’m sitting here with a numb mouth and I’m popping ibuprofen. Pretty exciting night, eh?!

It started a few days ago in Nong Khai. You know the feeling – you bite down on something and suddenly something just doesn’t feel right. Well, that’s what happened. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it wasn’t right, I knew that. Then the slightest bit of pain started whenever I ate or drank anything. But then it would go away. I liked that part. So I thought I’d ignore it and hope for the best. But it didn’t go away and I figured the longer I ignored it, the worse it would likely get.

But what to do? I really didn’t want to get treatment in this little town and damn it, I was headed to the beach – priorities, after all!

So after almost 24 hours of traveling (which I’ll write about another time – I’m dog tired and need to sleep soon!), I arrived in Trat, which is the jumping off point for the ferries to Ko Chang. I already decided about 20 hours into the journey that I would stay in Trat for the night and head to Ko Chang tomorrow. Wise idea.

As I traveled through Bangkok on the bus, I noticed some dental clinics along the roads and was reminded again of this problem. I couldn’t keep putting it off. Would I go back to Bangkok early and see a dentist? How would I find a good one? Those kinds of questions kept coming up and then I couldn’t think of how to answer them, so I would put them out of my mind. But that didn’t seem very responsible, so I knew I had to get more serious about this ‘situation.’

I had expected Trat to be a much smaller city than it is. It’s bigger than Nong Khai and bustling with energy. As I was reviewing the Trat map that the woman here at the guest house gave me, I noticed two dentists listed in various places. I thought it was a message – I asked her about them and she directed me to one that she thought was best. But she said it often took a week to get an appointment, which definitely wouldn’t work, but she showed me the way on the map and I was off.

It was a short walk – about 20 minutes. I showed up there at 4:20 pm and was greeted warmly by the receptionist who spoke good-enough English. She said I could be seen in 20 minutes. It ended up being only 5! I was asked to fill out a form (in English) with these questions:


Date of Birth



Drug Allergies

Allergies to Local Anesthesia

Taking any Medications

That was it. Nothing more. The clinic looked like any professional dental facility in the West – clean, professional, all up to expected standards.

I was shown into one of the exam rooms that looked just like one at home. The dentist was there in full dental regalia – gloves, mask and face shield. I looked around and everything looked hygienic and sterile. It was all very reassuring.

I remembered back to a time when I went to the dentist with my lover/friend Chris when we were in India together there – what a scary, dismal place that was. I especially recall one moment when the dentist dropped an instrument while he was working (yes, I was in the room while it was going on!) – and just picked it up off the floor and kept working! Chris, being Chris, joined me in a good laugh for that.

I was glad to feel far removed from that horrid place and memory. Here, everything looked as good as it could.

I told the dentist about my tooth pain problem which I couldn’t quite isolate between the upper and lower parts of my mouth – at least I could direct him that it was on the right side! I could have sworn it was coming from the lower part of my mouth. So he poked around there for awhile, but nothing seemed to make me jump out of or even grip the sides of the chair. He suggested an x-ray and I agreed. That didn’t show anything. Then he took another. Still nothing. Okay, try the upper, I suggested. And sure enough, therein was the problem. A cavity below a very old filling. He suggested that the old filling be removed and a new one put in its place. Okay, fine, when can we do it? “Go to the front desk and they’ll make an appointment for you.” Too bad, I thought, I guess my trip to the beach really will be delayed now. But it was okay – I felt fortunate that I found a place and dentist I trusted where this could be taken care of, even if it meant a few less days on the beach!

The receptionist told me to come back in two hours! Yep, this very same night at 7 pm! Any idea how long it takes me to get a dental appointment in Hawaii? I’m lucky enough to even have a dentist there!

So I strolled around town, made it over to the Night Market which was a total local affair without another tourist in sight. There I found some street food for dinner, since I hadn’t eaten since yesterday lunch and figured I wouldn’t be much up for it after my appointment. Food was simple Thai street food of tofu, spring rolls and veggies, but it was good enough for a simple meal.

I returned to the clinic at 6:45 and without even time to sit in the waiting room, they brought me back in to the same exam room, but this time with a different dentist – a woman this time! She was very friendly and I noticed I began talking very quickly, and was reminded of how I was doing this without even meaning to. It’s that sense I’ve gotten back at home in medical/dental facilities that we’ve got to hurry it along – there’s not a lot of time for lally-gagging (how do you spell that?!). But she didn’t seemed rushed in the least; she was relaxed, spoke slowly and discussed it all with me in fine detail. She looked at the x-rays with me and agreed that she would take out the old filling and replace it with a new one.

I asked for confirmation that she would use a local anesthesia and she seemed a bit surprised. “Most Thai people don’t like needles, so they don’t have anesthesia; but if you want it, of course I can give it to you.” Yes, I want it! I’m not tough like Thai people – I definitely want a local anesthetic as you’re digging out an ancient filling and putting in a new one! So she went to work – they placed a small piece of purple fabric over my entire face with a hole just for my mouth. No eye contact here, although my eyes were closed already anyway! Strange feeling, to be lying there in the dental chair listening to Thai being spoken back and forth, not being able to understand a word of what has being said! But I very comfortably felt like I was in more than capable hands and relaxed into the procedure.

Within 40 minutes, she was done and I was back up at the reception desk paying my bill.

Oh and what a bill it was:

              3 x-rays                        –    $10.00

              Filling                            –     $16.67

              Medications                  –    $  6.67*

              All for a grand total of      $33.34!

*Which included anesthesia, ibuprofen and amoxicillin for another problem she discovered, which I’ll get to in a minute. And oh yes, of course she gave me the x-rays – “they’re yours, I assume you want them!”

When is the last time you paid less than $35 for all that at a dentist office? Amazing, yes?! I paid the bill and came right back here to the Ban Saidee Guest House to call it a night.

Now, onto that other problem – a more serious one, indeed. She also noticed on the x-ray that the tooth next to the one with the cavity looks like it’s in trouble. It needs a root canal and a crown. Why this wasn’t picked up only four months ago at my last dental exam before I left (while I still had insurance – arghhh!) I don’t know, but she said it looks like it’s a fairly new problem. And unfortunately, I can’t take care of it here. It needs to be completed over a 4-6 week time period and even as I tried to convince her to do it over the 3 weeks I’ve got left, she said it wouldn’t be safe to do so. So she gave me the antibiotics to take if the pain continues, which indicates there’s a problem/infection in that tooth. I won’t be too quick to take them unless it feels like something is still wrong. I’m gonna hope it was all related to this cavity problem!

In the meantime, she told me there’s a sister dental clinic on Ko Chang where I can get my teeth cleaned. So I’ll do that for sure and by then I’ll come up with another plan for this root canal/crown business. But for now, I’m damn pleased with my first Thai dental experience. And even now, after the anesthesia has worn off, I don’t have any pain at all and I’m hoping it’s gonna stay that way!

As I walked back to my guest house, I wondered if I should extend my trip so I could take care of this problem. After all, this kind of dental work at home without insurance will cost me in the thousands. But I don’t really want to cut into so much of my time in California. But I don’t need to make this decision tonight – with all this travel and the dentist, it’s been enough of a day!

So now I’m researching Dental Schools in San Francisco on the web where I can get inexpensive dental care while I’m there. Well, inexpensive is a relative term, now, isn’t it?! But hopefully cheap enough so that I won’t have to think about getting a job to pay for it!

Okay, I’m off to read about UCSF and University of the Pacific – hopefully with this much lead time, I can make something happen at one of those places!

Like my mother always told me (but did I listen?!) …

Brush your teeth!

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1 Response to An Unexpected Trip …

  1. Donna Ingenito says:

    So sorry to hear about the need for the trip to the dentist, but as usual, you’ve turned it into quite the travel experience. And what a great bargain!

    Oh, and by the way, it’s “lollygagging” 🙂 – Mom always mispronounced it!

    I have some experience with the dental clinic at UCSF – we’ll talk about it when next we skype.

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