Guest Post by Jason Hall
Bangkok Smile: My Dental Trip To Thailand
My teeth are really bad. I’ve got more tartar than Long John Silver’s. My teeth decay faster than hassium-235. I only floss when I have something specific to extract. I snack constantly. As a result, I rarely find convenient breaks to brush my teeth and can sometimes go for days without the procedure. Eventually, after chipping a front tooth on a soft pretzel, I had to bite the bullet and visit a dentist.
I picked a propinquity one from the Yellow Pages. They asked me who my previous dentist was. I told them that I had last seen a Dr. Weasel in Tarpon Springs, but I left because I didn’t like him personally, and it had been a couple years intervening. She insisted on sending me across the room to the hygienist for a “de-bridgement”. I consented, feeling I had no choice in awe of authority.
A “de-bridgement” was new to me. It apparently consists of the operator tearing through my fragile enamel like she was cutting chalk figures into the hills of Dorset. She used metal hooks to tear gaps in my teeth that I could feel air flow through. My mouth was coated with broken tooth bits. It was painful, both physically and emotionally, but at least the dentist was attractive and the bright overhead light shined through her hair like Hesperus as the personification of the evening star. The damage to my teeth was assessed. Ten teeth would need fillings. In addition, my chipped tooth was now a full-fledged broken tooth and would require a root canal and a crown. They wanted to set up an appointment right away. I told them I didn’t know and would call them back.
Now, I don’t have dental insurance. It doesn’t make financial sense to me. Insurance companies take in more than they pay out always, even after operating costs. The only way insurance becomes worthwhile is in the case of catastrophe, and that doesn’t happen often with dental.
Recently in the United States, a tax has been imposed on people like me as punishment for not having insurance. My lot in life is not improved. I estimated that the work being proposed for my mouth would run about $3,000. That’s not an amount to be parted with sweetly. Back in Texas, I knew a few people who would drive across the Mexican border to have dental work done on the cheap and possibly load up on cheap prescription medication. I searched online for dentists in Mexico and also Costa Rica, India, and Thailand. After some e-mails, I settled on a clinic named Bangkok Smile, largely because they had clearly posted prices for various procedures. I estimated the cost at around a tenth of the USA price, $300. With airfare, hotel, and miscellaneous expenses, I might end up paying a little more, but it would include a trip to Bangkok.
To make the most of things, I looked into other elective surgeries. I’ve worn eyeglasses since I was 11. I never could tolerate contact lenses, but it would be nice to be able to wear sunglasses. Maybe LASIK was for me. Maybe the permanent divots behind my ears where the arms of my frames dig in would disappear. I scheduled an eye exam at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok. Whacky plastic surgeries like a nautical, or sub dermal horn implants, and bionic arms were less attractively priced and not entirely desirable. I left it at the eyes and teeth.
After arriving in Bangkok, I went to Bumrungrad Hospital for my eye exam. It didn’t run smoothly. It turns out I’m one of those rare people who can’t relax while being poked in the eye. My face and head react out of my control. Ordinary glaucoma puff tests are difficult for me. This was near torture. A nurse had to clasp my head with both hands. “Stop moving!” said the doctor. “I’m trying!” said me. “No, you’re not!” said him. Eventually, he managed to pop a metal ring over my eyeball. I went blind and, for a moment thought he was actually operating.
Nope, it was still just the exam.
The second eye wasn’t easier for any of us. My eyes were fine to operate on and the doctor said he’d try, but if I couldn’t keep still, then there wasn’t anything he could do. That meant no refunds. On the way out I asked the receptionist if anyone ever went all the way under general anesthesia to have the surgery, like I did when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. She said it wasn’t necessary and that nobody ever has a problem staying calm. What if I handled my own anesthesia and just had someone cart in my unconscious body? Apparently, that would not have been okay. To this day, I have been unable to ascertain why general anesthesia is not used for LASIK patients, but it isn’t. I suspect doctors live to see terror in the faces of their patients. I elected not to trust my ability to curb my reflexes and instead have resigned to wear spectacles for the rest of my life.
The trip to the Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic was more successful. They insisted on doing the work in four visits, one quadrant at a time. Three different dentists would ultimately work me over across those four visits. I requested to have it all done at once, no matter the time or trauma. Bangkok Smile refused.
Accounts of Bangkok libertarianism are vastly exaggerated. The work was done quickly and with no chitchat. Normally, American dentists will chastise me for my poor tooth maintenance for a while before and after doing their own job. The Thai dentists neglected this aspect, either out of apathy or deference to the language barrier. Little care was taken for my neck. After each session, my neck hurt much more than my teeth. Massage parlors were plentiful, but I didn’t avail myself to the end of the end of neck pains. I paid at the desk with wads of colorful baht and walked several miles across the city back to my hotel, wearing a silk bandana tied around my face to hide my swollen mouth from the public.
Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic information is located at http://www.bangkoksmiledental.com/
Bumrungrad International Hospital information is located at http://www.bumrungrad.com/thailandhospital