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Friday, February 19, 2016

Regular Posts Interrupted with a Case of Dental Discomfort

It started in Kuala Lumpur. I woke one morning and my tongue alerted me to a problem. One tooth didn't feel right. And my tongue would know; it's been with these teeth from the get-go. Trust your tongue, always. 

When I looked at the tooth, it looked like maybe the filling had fallen out. The tooth didn't hurt, but it was a little sensitive once in a while. I decided that I would deal with the tooth in KL since our next stop was Vietnam and we were going to be there three weeks. Smart, right?

KL Dentist

Our Airbnb landlord, who was a young fellow who'd studied at Stanford, seemed like a good one from whom to get a recommendation of a dentist who spoke English. He sent me to a terrific looking office in a great mall in a rich neighbourhood. All is good.

The dentist insisted that my filling hadn't fallen out (though my tongue sure disagreed), but instead, I had a little cavity. What? Ok. She's the dentist. She did a quick filling.

Feeling mighty proud of myself for dealing with my tooth off I went. Everything felt great.


Tooth Pain & Finding a Vietnamese Dentist During Tet

About ten days later, my tooth (the same one) started to feel a little sensitive. Not too much, but I could feel something going on, maybe. By this point, we are in Hanoi and Tet (Lunar New Year) is approaching. I just assumed that it was a sensitive tooth and it would pass.

By the day before Tet, my tooth hurt a lot. Not all the time, but pretty regularly. It was time to find a dentist at our next stop of Da Nang. Some on-line searching found two or three dental clinics frequented by overseas travellers coming for inexpensive dental work. The reviews were all good. I sent some e-mails.

Shortly after sending the e-mails I discovered that the offices were all closed during Tet holiday - which was for a whole week. Nothing was going to open for another 8 days! Fortunately for me, one of the dentists asked me to describe the pain, said it sounded like an infection, and told me what antibiotics, painkillers and anti-inflammatories to get and she could see me when she's back from Tet holiday. Thanks to Pharmacist Google, I could look up what the drugs were for, and the side effects, 

By this point, we are the day after Tet. The pain was almost nonstop. Tylenol and Ibuprofen had stopped working. Sipping water, that for some reason had eased the pain, no longer worked. I couldn't even eat. Now, I needed to find a pharmacy. But, it's Tet holiday. Everything is closed.


The Pharmacy

I did find a pharmacy that confirmed by email it was open, but it was across town. I waited an hour for a taxi that never came. The cute young woman at the reception counter of the hotel apologized profusely, but it is Tet holiday, she explained. Nothing is open. 

On-line, I found one pharmacy named "24 Hours", but it never actually said it was open during Tet, or even for 24 hours. But it looked to be across the street from a hospital so maybe it would be open. It wasn't too far a walk, so off we went. And it was open! And busy.

The pharmacy was quite an experience. I'd read that pharmacies are supposed to get prescriptions before dispensing drugs, but that very few insisted on it. You really just go in, say what's wrong, and get some pills for it. There's a lot of self-diagnosis going on. I'd also read that drugs were quite inexpensive, but that foreigners sometimes pay quite a bit more.


The pharmacy was doing a brisk business. I'm not sure any of the counter staff were actually pharmacists. And I never saw anyone hand anything over that would resemble a prescription. But it served my purposes. And please take note of the opening hours of 06:00 to 24:00 for the 24 hour pharmacy.

I went in with my list of four drugs that I needed. I also had a few hundred dollars with me, and I'd hoped that would be enough for my foreign look. I handed the woman behind the counter my list, she scurried around for a moment or two and returned with 4 blister packs of drugs. Enough for 5 days - which is what the dentist told me to get.

She rang them up at the til, and the total amount was 170,000 Vietnamese Dong, or about $10.40! I couldn't believe it. I felt like I should run out of the shop shouting at Kerry to start the car.

About $1 worth of prescription pills


A few hours later, the pain was gone and I was feeling quite a bit better. Only a week to go before I could see the dentist, who was quite wonderful and followed up to ask whether the drugs made a difference.


The Dentist

A week later on Monday morning I headed to the dentist. And the timing was good because my drugs were gone and I'd woken up with a toothache in the night. 

Turns out my tooth was cracked. Thank you KL dentist for your filling and the resulting crack.

I needed a root canal and a crown. Let the fun begin.


The Dentist's Office



Before I describe the actual root canal, I want to describe the office. It's a little building that you enter from the street. You take off your shoes outside, and then either wear a pair of their flip flops or just go in with your bare feet, or socks if you're wearing them.




The receptionist is cute and adorable. She speaks just enough English for bill payments and to confirm appointments.



There is the main dentist, and three other people who appear to be a cross between a hygienist and a dentist-in-training. They chattered away in Vietnamese. 

I would love to have a job where I could just go about my business in my bare feet.


The hygiene looked fairly good. The instruments are all wrapped in plastic. I'm going assume that's because they are sterilized. Everyone wore and changed gloves. I thought it all looked ok. Mind you, in North America we are so germophobic, it's tough to beat germ killers where Lysol wipes carry the day and are used to wipe down every surface of my regular dentist's office. For my trips to the Vietnam dentist, I'm going with the fact that the good germs weren't killed so I'll be ok. For those of you freaking out, please take a deep breath, and send me your tough germ-fighting vibes please. 

And remember, I only found good reviews on-line from three different sources. Given that people love to complain when things go wrong, I took this as a good sign. I was also buoyed by the fact that quite a few Australians come here for their dental work because it's much cheaper than home.

The whole office had two dental chairs, side-by-side in one room with no privacy between them. But you couldn't really see what was happening in the other chair. Nor could you really hear, though I could easily hear the loud American talking about his Crown options. The chairs each looked pretty much like home with the bright light overhead, rinse cup, and a tray for the tools. But the chairs had no arms. Turns out, this mattered to me. More on this in a moment.

The x-ray room was tidy and small with a heavy door. No lead vest. And I held my finger on the film bit that you normally clamp between your teeth.

The dentist's diploma is in French. Her English is very good. What could go wrong. Ok, I know probably only a tenth of the things that could go wrong, but I forged ahead anyway.

The Root Canal

For some reason, the dentist didn't give me a pain killing injection. But rather, when I felt pain she squirted on a numbing liquid. 

Go with the flow, I told myself. Pretend to be an anthropologist, or that you're living under cover as a Vietnamese gal. Besides, most to of the pulp would be dead from the infection. And all was good until she stabbed the first bit of alive pulp with her tortuous pointy instruments. Lots of squirting followed. 

I probably should have asked for an injection. But I didn't really think it would go on for very long. Plus, I wondered why an injection wouldn't be par for the course. Was there some reason she didn't just inject. Pondering this question made me quite convinced there must be some reason so it was perhaps best that I didn't insist. Besides, in a moment or two, I'd be in no state to even ask.

It's at this point I need to say that I don't do well with a lack of sleep. I never have. But I know this, and I rarely go very long without very much sleep. Well, I'd had some bad sleeps over the last week for a variety of reasons, and the night before I was awake quite awhile with the tooth ache. I should have known nothing positive would come out of this day.

It started shortly after the dentist first touched the part of the pulp of the inside of my tooth that was still alive. Hot searing pain. Pain like I have never felt in my life. I flinched. She squirted. But there seemed to be a lot of painful spots  - or so it felt.

I tried to reach for the arms of the chair, but there weren't any. I was left clutching my purse for dear life like a senior walking through a sketchy neighbourhood after cashing her pension cheque.

And then the tears started to flow out of the corner of my eyes. It was as though a dam with a slow leak suddenly broke open. The path for the following tears was set. I couldn't stop them. The pain wasn't even that bad for a bit, but there's something about having your sensitive tooth pulp open for the world to pick at that leaves one feeling emotionally vulnerable. I was deep breathing keeping things under control. But the tears came. As did bits of pain here and there. After every cringe, small yelp or moan, the dentist happily squirted more numbing fluid all over my tooth and said in her adorably accented voice, "I understand."

I think I was starting to make a spectacle of myself. They had this thick cotton piece of fabric - much like a napkin - on my chest. Like our paper bibs, I thought, but better. Nope. It acts as a bib, but it has a big hole in the middle. That's because they drape it over your face covering your eyes, but leaving your mouth and nose exposed. At least now I could continue to let the tears fall, but privately.

So I closed my eyes - which always relaxes me - and focussed on breathing deeply. I was going to get through this like a trooper. Besides, how much longer could it go on. And that numbing stuff seemed to work for the most part. The worst part was finding out I needed more, but she was good about stopping and squirting.

And then I heard the song.

Frank Mills' "Music Box Dancer". I'm not even a fan of the song, but Mom was. The emotional tears about her death came fast and furious. I remembered her getting a speeding ticket because she couldn't help but speed up when she listened to this song in the car. So sad she's no longer here. Even sadder that Dad now goes on alone.

Things didn't improve. As I tried to shut down the Mom memories and stop the river of tears, I heard "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven. You would think that would be a soothing piece of music, wouldn't you. But nope. Instead I starting thinking about Lucy being in love with Schroeder, but he's clearly not that into her and she should just give up on her unrequited love and move on. Such a waste for Lucy. Why doesn't she think more highly of herself? She has so much going for her. 

More tears. I think my lips may have been quivering a bit by this point.

Next up on the soothing music playlist was the theme from "Love Story". Saddest. Movie. Ever. It was so sad that Ali McGraw had to die leaving her true love, Ryan O'Neal, so lost and alone. So sad.

Finally, Vivaldi's "Four Seasons". I don't even remember which season played, but I instantly remembered seeing Nigel Kennedy in concert years ago. This isn't even sad, but by now the tears flowed freely and refused to slow down, even to a trickle, let alone stop.  Just the nostalgia of the event overwhelmed me I suppose.

Eventually, my afternoon of a crying emotional breakdown in a dentist office in Vietnam came to an exhausting end. I said I was fine, almost burst into tears again when she told me to come back tomorrow so she could check to make sure the roots were cleaned out fully. I paid my bill, crawled into the taxi, and was so happy to be back to the privacy of our hotel room.

Needless to say, I went to bed early that night.

Root Canal Part 2 and the Crown

I'm happy to report day two of the root canal was better and I got through it without tears. I also survived the grinding down of my tooth, preparing for the crown, and getting the crown itself. 

My new shiny tooth


I'm all fixed up now and my new tooth looks great and feels normal. Hopefully, I need not see another dentist until I am back in Edmonton and can see my own dentist. And if I need to see another dentist, I sure hope I get a good sleep the night before.






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