Friday, June 7, 2013

A Visit to the (Russian) Dentist

Kristen says...

Well, it had to happen eventually.

 Once one decides to live outside one's home country, one must come to the conclusion that one is ok with seeking medical and dental assistance from someone other than the person one has visited for years and is comfortable with...

Meaning if you have an achy tooth, suck it up and go to the Russian dentist.

 My tooth has actually been bothering me since before we left the States, but it wasn't bad and I just didn't have the chance to do anything about it before we left. It was mostly just twinges here and there; when I'd breathe in cold air, when I'd drink a warm beverage, when I ate something sugary...

 Anyway, last week I was not feeling well (headache, sore throat, cough, snot everywhere, fever and of course, sinus pressure). When I don't feel good I usually do 3 things: cry, call my mom and drink Sprite.

 Sadly, mom's on vacation (and I really don't have a phone to call the US yet--the new iPhone is on its way), so I was left to cry and drink Sprite.

Actually, in the States it would be Diet Sprite--I haven't had full-sugar pop for years.

 Here, there is no Diet Sprite (I am lucky to get Diet Pepsi!), so it's full-sugar Sprite or bust...unfortunately all the full-sugar Sprite I've been drinking over the past week wreaked havoc on my aching tooth, enough that I mentioned to my boss that my tooth was hurting.

 Lucky for me, she had a dental appointment for herself all set up for Wednesday of this week, and she invited me to come with her and see the clinic and get a checkup.

So, I went.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

 That is not a diss on Russia in general or Vladivostok in particular, but before we came here we were warned that health care here is considered far sub-standard to what is available in the US--I believe the actual quote was that "for anything more than a bad cold" we would need to fly out of the country for medical care.

So with that ringing in my ears, I was not expecting much from the Russian dentist.

 In actuality, the clinic was very clean and modern. We actually had to but blue booties over our shoes when we went in the clinic to keep the floors clean. I was honestly expecting the clinic to look like the dental clinic of the medical brigade I went on in Honduras:
but in actuality it looked like every dentist's office I've ever visited in the States. Very reassuring.

 Of course, nobody spoke English, but I am coming to expect that here. Many, many more people spoke English in Honduras than do here.

 I was very promptly shown in to a very nice lady dentist (with a male hygienist, by the way, the first time that has ever happened for me. Girl power!). I said hello, and then let her know that 'I understand and speak very little Russian.' Luckily she was patient and kind and open to pantomime. :)

 I told her I had pain in either one or two of my back teeth and pointed to them, and then used a pen to point to the place I had pain on the paper chart on her desk (between the back two molars, on a tooth that had already been filled a few years ago...eek). She asked 'if it hurt with cold or hot', and I said 'it hurt when I' and then made a swift breathing in sound, because I didn't know how to say exactly what I wanted to say in Russian. She got it. Crude, but effective.

 So, we went to the chair and she started poking around. And, as I suspected, there was a cavity. She asked if I wanted to take care of it then and there, and since I was already in the chair, I said why not. She asked if I wanted anesthetic. I said I did (of course! I've had cavities drilled and filled without it before...ouch!) So they got out the big needle and numbed the area...let the drooling begin. After a wait of 5 minutes or so, the "operation" began.

This was when it got a little wierd.

 Before, when I've had cavities filled, they simply numbed the area, waited a bit, and then set to work with the drill.

 Here, they numbed the area, waited a bit, and then pulled out a 4x4 square of latex with a tooth-sized metal ring (kind of like the metal spacer they used when I had braces) punched through the center. The latex was laid over my mouth and floss was used to push the ring down over my tooth, I assume to segregate it from the rest of the teeth...

At this point I'm thinking, 'crap, are they just going to pull the tooth?!' and then, 'crap, how do I say, "Don't pull my tooth!" in Russian?!'

 I believe the direct translation of what I actually said was, "I am going to have that tooth?" Luckily she understood the meaning behind the question and assured me that yes, the tooth would remain.

 So, she drilled, and drilled, and drilled. I think she actually took out the old filling and then put in a totally new one. It seemed to take a really, really long time, and actually was quite painful in certain places, but eventually she started the filling process.

 Again, I got a little nervous. It is not uncommon to see little old Russian ladies with more than one shiny gold tooth walking around the streets of Vladivostok. I remembered that I'd forgotten to tell her I wanted a white filling, not metallic.

 Luckily, I didn't even need to ask, I could see the white putty. I was doubly-reassured when her hygienist pulled out the yellow glasses and blue light filling zapper (I'm sure there is a technical term for that) to harden the filling.

 Finally, the filling was set and the grinding-to-fit began...unfortunately I was so overly numbed that I didn't realize the filling was way too high...I couldn't even chew when I got home, it was so uneven.

 So I got to take a second trip to the dentist on Thursday to have it ground down even more. It's still not perfect, but at least I can eat! The tooth is also still a little sensitive, which is slightly worrying since I had it filled 3 days ago...if it's still hurting next week I'll probably go back again, but I'm hoping it will be all better after the weekend.

 Still, for now I'm going to call my first out-of-the-USA dental experience a success. At any rate, it was an experience. :)



  1. OK -you had me a little concerned with the picture you included in this post, until I realized it was taken at the Honduras clinic (whew!). You didn't mention having a radiograph (xray) taken of the tooth, and while some areas of decay can be seen clinically (just by looking in the mouth), it might have been a good idea to have an xray taken to see how close the decay is to the nerve of the tooth. Sometimes a new filling can be sensitive for a few days afterward, especially if your bite is off (too high, as you described). But if it continues, you should go back to have them not only check and re-adjust yor bite, but also take an xray and rule out an infected nerve (if the decay did indeed penetrate to the pulp/nerve). If that is the case, then you would need a root canal. Don't be scared by a root canal - you are numb for it just like having a filling, and typically it isn't painful when you treat the tooth early enough to not let the infection cause an abscess (gum boil/pimple, swollen face). Yes, the latex square is called a rubber dam. It is commonly used when doing composite (white) fillings because it works best as a moisture barrier (very critical to keep the tooth dry when placing the filling). I'm glad it was a positive experience, and it sounds as though they were doing the right things (using a rubber dam, white fillings, etc). Sorry I can't be of any help in regards to translating dental terminology into Russian!

  2. Private healthcare in Russia supposed to be not bad and standards compliant. Regarding dentists - they are mostly similar to what you'd have in any of developed countries.

    The real trouble is when you go to public health.

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