My most recent trip to this dentist this week reminded me of my last dental visit in South Korea in 2008, and the complicated shenanigans that ensued. Needless to say, I always buy travel sized toothpaste now.
“You have 8 cavities,” he stated matter of factly. I stared at him astounded. He had been speaking relatively good English this entire time, but I assumed he never learned his numbers. I managed to stagger out a “what??” He repeated, “you have 8 cavities, many problems in your mouth.” I was flabbergasted. “But . . . but I don’t even eat candy,” I stammered, “How is this even possible?” “Well you should brush your teeth,” he began, before giving me a condensed lecture about how Koreans brush their teeth after every meal and that many even carry toothbrushes with them.
After talking with my English speaking Korean dentist a while (already a miracle to find in my small town), he asked me to bring in the toothpaste I was using the next time we met. I readily agreed, pouncing on the idea of demonstrating my half used bottle as proof that I do indeed occasionally brush my teeth.
I had been in South Korea nearly 3 months by this point and had adjusted fairly well. However my teeth apparently had not. As soon as I got home I rummaged through my 4 foot x 4 foot bathroom/shower/toilet area to find my toothpaste and put it in my bag, ensuring I would not forgot for tomorrow’s dental appointment. Buying toothpaste was actually one of the first things I had to do this in land, as the Cost-co sized Colgate my parents had procured for me was promptly taken out of my carry-on bag at airport security on the way over. This was part of the recent changes in airport travel thanks to an unsuccessful shoe bomber, and having lived in West Africa for the two years prior, I hadn’t really kept up with the changes. Thus my toothpaste, contact lens solution, and shaving cream were all deducted from my baggage’s total weight. At least it gave me reason to explore my town initially.
I had found a supermarket located in the basement of an apartment complex near me, and bought the required items. Given my recent stint in the Peace Corps I assumed I could do anything on my own, and eschewed asking my Korean co-teacher for help in the process. The toothpaste package was strikingly green, covered with pictures of happy (South) Koreans and their white teeth. It was so shiny, even if I didn’t need toothpaste I probably would’ve bought it. I soon found out the minty taste did not match appearance, but then again after eating kim chee all day my tastebuds were dying a slow and painful death anyways.
Fast forward to three months and one day later, and I’m carrying that beloved bottle with me to the dentist office afterschool. I am still highly annoyed that something in Korea has turned my generally good dental record upside down, but was relieved to hear that all those numerous fillings would require a total of $60 of work, thanks to the Korean national health insurance plan I was a part of ($60!!). The private clinic I had gone to earlier was demanded $2,000. I liked my teeth but not really that much.
to be continued . . .