I’m embarrased to say but I just had my first trip to a dentist in over 3 years. Going to the dentist is extremely scary in the first place and going in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and are not sure if they have the same technologies and processes makes it even more scary.
When I came to Japan I just assumed I’d make it back to the states now and then and visit a dentist back there. Well, I’ve only made it back twice in 3 years, once was during Christmas vacation and my dentist was also on Christmas vacation. The other time I was going to Maui and waited too long to make an appointment. Besides, who wants to go to the dentist on their vacation?
Here in Japan there are legendary scary stories of dentists. Like the time my friend went to the dentist and they would not give him any novocaine since they claimed it wouldn’t hurt. When it finally did hurt so much that he was ready to punch the dentist she gave him some but then looked at him with a really scared as his whole face went numb and later ended up calling him at home to make sure he was still alive because she was afraid she had given him too much.
Well, anyway, one of my friends went to dentist he liked so I decided to go there. It’s hard to compare directly Japanese dentistry vs American since I have no idea if these are general things or just my personal experience but some random guesses on my part:
Japanese dentists don’t like pain killers or anesthetics. There’s no such think has nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and there’s no such thing as distractions. By that I mean I’ve been to American dentists where they had a TV and videos and headphones to give you something else to concentrate on while they worked on you. Nothing like that here and I was at a pretty fancy office, not some extra room in someone’s house kind of dentist but one in a 25 story new glass tower type of building.
My Japanese dentist was also pretty rough with my grabbing my mouth, not my teeth but pulling it open. I think that’s the most my mouth ever hurt from being handled.
He checked my teeth only visually. My American dentists have always taken this pointy thing and poked each tooth. They can tell whether you are forming a cavity by whether or not the pointy thing kind of sticks to your tooth or not. (ie, your tooth is hard like it should be or soft because it’s being dissolved by a cavity)
There was also an issue of tempature. My American dentists usually seem to have a 2 or 3 button water dispenser. I don’t remember if they are cold, hot and room temp or plain, chocolate, vanilla or what BUT, my Japanese dentist only had one and it dispensed ICE COLD WATER. That doesn’t normally effect me, at least when I’m drinking but this time it did. Probably because at one point she was running it constantly on one tooth. Seems like it would be common sense to have room temp water since that would pretty much garantee no pain but what do I know.
Then, on the opposite side when they polished my teeth the person doing the polishing would run the polisher too fast and too long in one spot and I felt like my teeth were going to spontanously combust. That was the one time I had to raise my right hand to get her to stop.
One other thing about dentistry in Japan is they are notorious for dragging out your work from one visit into 3, 4 or 5. The rumor is they get more money from the insurance this way. For me they cleaned my upper teeth Tuesday and will clean my lower teeth on Friday. The dentist claimed that was because after cleaning, my teeth would be sensitive to hot and cold and therefore it was better to do a little at a time. Ah… yea, right, like since when as that been true? I don’t ever seem to remember my teeth being sensitive from cleaning from 30+ years of previous visits in America.
I’ve even heard horror stories of them dragging out fillings as in one visit they drill the hole, the next visit they put in the filling, the one after that they polish it down to match your tooth. I have to wonder if those stories are true. Wouldn’t you end up getting food in the hole? But, I hear lots of crazy things about Japan that turn out to be true so it’s not hard to believe :-S