Adventures in Korean Dentistry: Losing the Faith
There are three words I never want to hear from anyone in the medical profession:
“I don’t know.”
Perhaps it’s knowing that dentists and doctors go to school for years and years to learn about everything that could possibly go wrong. Or perhaps it’s just the blind faith a person puts in a doctor or dentist. We put our health, our most valuable possession, in the hands of someone who could very well be a stranger, simply because they can put two letters in front of their name.
Either way, hearing “I don’t know” makes me instantly want to run away, especially when the thing the don’t know about could cause me a lot of trouble.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In part one, I wrote about my first experience with a Korean dentist. Dr.Cho was everything I could want in a dentist: reassuring, easy to get to, and spoke really great English. He referred me to an oral surgeon, because I needed to get my wisdom teeth out. I’d been putting off the procedure for almost five years, because I could never afford it in Canada. When I asked if the oral surgeon spoke English, Dr.Cho replied “…I believe so!”
My stomach lurched a little in fear, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Just to be safe, my Korean friend was kind enough to come along with me for moral support.
The oral surgeon was located in Gangnam, one of the nicer areas of Seoul. I was almost late, wandering around the area looking for the right tower. We eventually found it. The dentist’s office was really nice as well, with a really nice waiting room with a TV, where we watch a bit of a drama while waiting.
The dentist’s English wasn’t as bad as I feared. He was able to speak decently, but he was not saying the things I needed to hear.
I had heard that Korean dentists were scary, but never understood why, exactly. That night, I found out what it was. After one quick glance at my teeth, the dentist told me that he had never seen a case as severe as mine, ever.
I blinked slowly. This was the first time I had ever been told my teeth were a severe case. I’d been paying attention to my dentists for ages, so I knew that I was really lucky, my wisdom teeth had developed with just one root, instead of two. It meant there was less chance of the nerves getting tangled, and it would be a clean removal. I knew that things had grown since then, but I could also see that I still only had one root.
It turns out, my wisdom tooth had grown, and the root was far enough to be pressing on one of the nerves in my mouth, the one affecting my chin, lip, and gums. The nerve is pressed pretty close to the bone, and I was told that nerve damage was a risk.
So I asked a really common question: “What are the chances?”
“…I don’t know.”
…What do you mean, you don’t know? I tried asking in different ways, what are the chances. What was the percentage? Did I have a 1 in 10 chance or injury or 9 in 10? I needed to know how terrified to be. But I kept getting the same answer.
“I don’t know.”
So then I asked how long it might ask.
“I don’t know.”
I felt like I was being punched in the stomach. I had one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever had in that moment. A dentist who was going to be REMOVING my TEETH had NO IDEA what the chances were of injury.
That just didn’t feel right with me.
The dentist stepped out for a moment to check on something, and my Korean friend attempted to reassure me. She told me that Korean doctors and dentists often told the worst case scenarios, and could be really scary at times. I tried to explain that doctors and dentists backs in Canada prefer to be reassuring and positive, since we can be really paranoid people at times. We want to hear we’re going to be okay. So I asked if she could explain that to the dentist, and that perhaps he could try being reassuring. Otherwise, I was going to simply deal with the pain.
The dentist came back. Yuseon explained my problem. And yet, even knowing this fact, the oral surgeon could not say a reassuring word. He simply kept saying “I don’t know.”
When we walked out of the office, I wanted to cry. I knew I wouldn’t be going through with that dentist, if I had any other option. We went off to eat anxiety-destroying tacos, and the next day I made a call to the Seoul National University Dental Hospital’s International Clinic, the best hospital in the country.
I figured, if anyone could reassure me, it would be SNUDH.
…To be continued…