Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Trip to the Dentist

It's been 10 years since I last made a trip to the dentist. I know that sounds very bad and like I have some sort of phobia about them but the truth is that I don't mind going to the dentist much. In fact, I'd much rather go to the dentist than go to a doctor. Dentists can see your teeth and gums and have a much clearer view of what problems are. They don't even have to ask you much about your problems to do their job.

Doctors, on the other hand, often have to deal with a set of ambiguous symptoms which they have to interpret or do extensive (and often invasive, inconclusive, and uncomfortable) testing to help guide them toward a correct diagnosis. My experiences with doctors are often frustrating, annoying and disheartening.

Luckily, I've never had a bad dental experience in Japan. In the U.S., I had some pretty awful experiences in my childhood but never in Japan as an adult. When I was a kid, two of my lower molars in the middle of each side of my mouth were pulled when I had a cavity because my family was too poor for proper dental care. In both cases, I didn't get enough novacaine or it was injected improperly and it was very painful. As an adult, I've had to live with the two gaping holes left by losing these teeth. They can't be seen but it's messed up my bite and makes for some chewing problems.

The reason that it's been 10 years since I last visited the dentist is that, frankly, it just didn't occur to me to go because I hadn't had any problems. After my long bout of cold and cold-related issues though, the teeth on one side of my mouth were really aching. This isn't uncommon for me after a long illness as I can sometimes have pain due to very minor dental problems when my immune system is suppressed. However, it occurred to me that I may have a cavity after all this time.

The first thing I discovered when arriving at the hospital the clinic occupied the third floor of was that it no longer was in the same building. Within the last year, they were shuffled off to a little building behind the hospital (pictured above). It looks pretty unimpressive on the outside but it's actually okay on the inside. The building is not new but it's very clean and they seem to have more space to deal with patients now than before. It sort of resembles a hair salon with about 5 or 6 dental chairs lined up and partitioned off from one another along two sides of the building. I think one dentist tends to service each side and there are separate doors leading to one or the other.

My husband and I both made appointments and they took us in about 5 minutes apart. I thought the dentist might give me hell for not coming for so long or complain about the state of my teeth but he looked in my mouth for about a minute and said everything looked fine. I did mention the problem with the left side and the pain and he told me this is because part of a wisdom tooth (which has largely migrated out and will eventually be fully-exposed) is still covered by gum and food or bacteria can get in there and the gum will be inflamed.

My husband hadn't been for only a year and he also had a once over and everything looked okay for him as well so we both had a cleaning. Well, to be more accurate, he had a cleaning and I had a half cleaning. I have Japanese health insurance and he does not and it seems that Japanese health insurance is the reason procedures get strung out in Japan. Apparently, they won't pay if you get it all done at once. I'm not sure what purpose this serves except to put out the person who is doing it or to allow for multiple billing but that's the way it is.

To our great irritation, we discovered that we only save about $20 by having health insurance pay for it and we have to waste at least another hour and $3 in train fare. If I had known that, I would have paid it all out of pocket and got it done at once rather than waste the time of going back again in two weeks to get the second half done.

On the bright side, we visited the basement of the Ogikubo JR station afterwards where there is a shop with a lot of yummy import items. Since my husband is celebrating his birthday this weekend (since he worked on the actual day), he indulged on some Dare maple cookies, an orange chocolate bar, and some barbeque Ruffles potato chips. There are also a plethora of pretty nice bakeries in the same area including Kobe-ya (which makes sublime custard tarts) and Anten-do (which makes my husband's favorite banana muffins) so we picked up a few items. All in all, not a bad day out but I could do without the crowds.


TropFish said...

Wow 10yrs. that's amazing. I just went to the dentist (my yearly visit) got a crown that needs replacing - I don't have Dental Insurance either it's going to cost me $800. I did find a Discount Dental Plan that will cut the cost down for me.

Karen said...

I just found your blog when I was looking up Krisy Kreme's in Shinjuku, great blog by the way.
I was wondering if the foreign food store wasa inside Lumine? I didn't know there was one nearby.

Shari said...

Hi Karen and thanks for your kind words. :-)

You're right about where the foreign food shop is. It is indeed in Lumine in Ogikubo in the basement. It stocks Japanese food as well as foreign food.

Karen said...

Hi Shari,
Thanks for the help :) Do you recommend the dentist you went to, do they speak any English? I've been meaning to go next month, and some of the previous Japanese dentists I've been to don't use gloves. I'm new to this area of Tokyo so I'm not too familiar with the local dentists.
(I lined up fro Krispy Kremes, and ate a lot of donuts)

Shari said...

Karen, I very much recommend the dentist I go to. His name is Nemoto. If call the clinic at 3392-8281, they will answer in Japanese but usually you can ask "do you speak English" and they'll get someone on the line who can make your appointment in English.

Once you get an English speaker on the line, ask to make an appointment with Dr. Nemoto. You may have to wait 2-4 weeks to get in though so make the appointment in advance.

The doctor is very good at English and all my husband's and my dealings with him have been only in English. He has a dry sense of humor, too. (When I asked if I had any cavities, he said, "no, but I can make one for you if you like.")

The facilities are clean and modern and they do use gloves!