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Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Dentist in Japan

Japan is far enough away from the world that we Westerners know that everything is an experience out of the norm. So on Friday I had my first trip to the Japanese dentist.

First off I noticed that there were inside shoes in a shelf. Japanese tradition is that you don’t wear your outside shoes any further than the genkan (entrance- usually one step up). But that is traditional and not practical in a world where you have people coming and going in stores and train stations and the like. So some places don’t observe it. Now I noticed it, and thought “Damn, I wore my outside shoes inside when I came to make the appointment.” They must have thought I was barbaric or maybe they chalked it up to being gaijin (foreigner).

I had to go to the bathroom. Now the dentist down the hill from me has two doors, an outer and an inner door, and the bathroom is just inside the genkan, between the two doors. So I go in, only to discover it’s a squatter. I’ve been in Japan long enough that squatters are no longer reason for a deep sigh and waiting til I get home. This particular squatter was a step-up one. I have never figured out if you’re supposed to back these and squat, step up and squat, or kneel. Stupse.

Anyhow, I went in to the receptionist and gave her my details ad my insurance card. Thank God for Japanese National Insurance- which covers ALL government employees for 70% of anything, officially making my root canal way cheaper here. We spent a while debating which was my last name and first name. Yes, I should know the difference, but it’s confusing here. Because Japanese use their last names pretty much all the time and I end up getting called Ms. Claire.

So a lady came and called me (Ms. Claire), and directed me to a seat. The office reminded me of an industrial garage. One where there are several bays next to one another and lots of mechanics working side by side. I was in the second cubicle. The cubicles were long enough and high enough that all you could see of your neighbour was their toes.

The assistant asked me what my problem was and I showed her my x-ray, my Japanese paper with root canal that Miyuki printed for me and pointed to the tooth. She looked at it, and took me in for an x-ray. Then she put a funny looking plastic frame in my mouth to hold it open and took pictures of my teeth. Another frame and pics of the inside.

Then she called the dentist. He smiled and asked in Japanese if I was spoke Japanese. “Sukoshi” – a little. And then he spoke to me in English anyways. He dug out a book with dental translations in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Korean, Chinese, Russian and God only knows what else. He looked at the tooth. Explained root canal in English (more than my dentist at home did). And then he injected me with the magic needle. I call it magic because I saw the vial of anaesthetic and I know he injected several different places but I haven’t seen nor felt a needle yet. He proceeded to dig out the inside of my tooth, warning me that if I started to choke raise my left hand. It seemed a strange thing to say. Or at least a strange way to say it, but it wouldn’t be in Japanese. Japanese doesn’t beat about the bush with euphemisms where English does, yet, where English is direct, Japanese is round-about.

Eventually, I did feel a pain and I get another magic needle. Another thing about the magic needle, is that whatever in the vial is immediate. Back home you had to go sit in the waiting room and wait for the effects for a minute or two. All this time the dentist is talking to me in English, which I was really impressed with. Before him, the assistant and the receptionist were speaking Japanese.

He stuffed my tooth with what I figure is gauze and told me (as the book said) “That’s all for today. This procedure will take about 5 visits.” The assistant told me not to eat gum or caramel and to chew on the next side of my mouth (in Japanese)- I know I’m gaijin but I ain’t stupid. Then I went back to the waiting room. The receptionist called me a while after. 2400 Yen, about 24 USD. Cheapest dentist visit ever. Loving my insurance right now. She asked me when I’d like to make another appointment. I told her next Saturday. I’d rather dread a Saturday than have to take time off work. So I wondered off and had some PFC for dinner as a treat for being a good girl. Hope next time goes as well as the first.

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