Going to the Dentist

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

  • yikes, I’ve had most of those horror stories here in the States

    I had one dentist carry out a root canal 2 roots at a time in Texas.  She made a killing on that tooth between my Mom and insurance.

    Then, another dentist in Illinois drilled a hole to put in a filling after filling another tooth, and told me to come back to get it filled whenever.  I still have the hole in it =/

    Another dentist would wait until I was ready to die from the pain before giving me enough novocaine, which eventually numbed me so long I had to wait until the next day before I could stop worrying if my tongue had been bitten in half.

    I have never been to a dentist that gave me distractions in the US =/

    I had another dentist who refused to use a jaw holder, so I either had to hold my mouth open, or he tugged it until I nearly screamed from the rawness and pain.

    After all that, I still love the dentist.  I hate it when they don’t watch out, and cut my lip on my teeth, though.

    The best dentist I ever had was Korean.  Not Korean American…from Korea, working in the US for a while in Seattle.  Best price too.

    Good luck.  I wish I could bottle my love for the dentist.

  • annny

    One time the dentist spilled the filling solution in my mouth. i had to spit out a bunch of chunks. i dont know if thats normal.

  • Don’t generalize

    It’s just a bad idea to generalize. There are good and bad dentists everywhere. I’ve been to the dentist a few times in Japan, and nothing but good experiences. It wasn’t any different from in the States, except that it was much cheaper. Huzzah for nationalized health care!

    Of course it’s intimidating to receive medical care in a foreign language, but to assume that Japan’s health care system is inferior to the States is both a little paranoid and a little discriminatory. Tokyo is a big city, if you poke around on the internet, you can find different clinics with English speaking doctors.

  • toothy
    Crooked Teeth Dentists

    I’ve been to so many dentists in the US. Never got to watch TV. But one place gave me really cool shades to put on while the bright lights were on.

    I’ve only seen cleanings done on all teeth in one session. What a scam and a hassle to do one section at a time!

    One dentist I went to was definitely crooked. Every time I came in he asked if he had whitened my teeth. He didn’t just use that pointy thing to check my teeth, he also had the assistant measure my gums everywhere and would say that they might be receding and that it could become a problem. What a load of shit, no other dentist ever came up with that one. That same asshole put in a couple of fillings too. They had to be replaced only 3 or 4 years later. Shithead.

    My favorite dentist was the one near my parent’s home. He had built the office as an addition to his house and it was pretty nice. All of his assistants were real honeys! :)…


  • Trying not to generalize 🙂

    > except that it was much cheaper.

    Except for how in Japan you pay based on your income.  For me, at $250 a month for National Insurance that’s far MORE expensive than I would ever pay in the states.  On top of which that only covers 70%.

    Yea, I tried not to generalize.  See paragraph 4.

    Still, try going to a Japanese doctor, notice that nothing is clean.  The last sick person is sitting on the same gross place as the previous person, no cleaning.  I was asked to use this inhaler, it looked like someone had coughed up a lugi on the machine and no one had ever cleaned it off from 2 or 3 months ago.  Those are just 2 examples of an office full of dirty things I didn’t want to get near and I’ve been to 4 hospitals and 3 doctors offices, not one of them was any cleaner.

    I went to my dentist today, the lady cleaning my teeth was sick, coughing into my face as she worked 🙁  She had a mask on but I could still feel her breath on my face.

  • Ozchin
    Jeezus F. Kryst!!!

    I’ll be sure to go visit my AWESOME dentist when I go back home. After hearing many horror stories (like the “if you face suddenly goes numb later tonight, call my cell phone ASAP… not that anything is wrong” story) here in Japan, seeing too many Health-realted offices that are dirty/not-sterilized, and been on the receiving end of “I’m the doctor, so you have to listen to me and respect me (no questions)” I won’t even test my luck.

    Which is not to say that America is the shining light at the end of a dark tunnel… my last dentist (for a couple years during JrHigh) was definitely high on something (nitrous?) while he operated. Needless to say, my father promptly took us to another dentist after that episode.

    Sounds like you are having a historical dental visit (WWI?). I hope you make it through without battle scars.

  • Tim

    How do you decide which dentists and doctors to go to Gregg? I asked my friends for recommendations first and then went. I found the doctors and dentists just as professional as other countries. Make sure you get a recommendation before you go next time.

  • Tim
    RE: Generalising

    Oops.. just read paragraph 4. Let me change my comment to: get a recommendation from someone who knows something about doctors or dentists or who’s had some major work done.

    The problem I’ve found with medical practises in Japan is that there’s a wide range of skills and professionalism. You can’t just walk into any clinic and expect a good job. Everyones heard the horror stories. But if you take some time to look you can find good English speaking doctors and dentists, especially around Otemachi where the big foreign banks are.

  • matty
    I seem to agree

    I’ve lived in Japan two years (visited a filthy clinic, a clean clinic, and no dentists) but just from living here it’s obvious that there is less value placed on straight teeth than in (compulsive?) America.  I hear that nat’l insurance never pays for braces, and doesn’t pay for tooth-colored fillings.  For what I’ve seen, Japan has an apparent lack of appreciation for teeth in general.  No one visits the dentist that I know unless they have a problem!

    On a slightly unrelated note, I had a frustrating experience with trying to get my American dentist to ship me my Invisalign braces.  Yamato/UPS called me to confirm what the contents of the package were.  I explained to them that these are clear, plastic braces.  You wear one set for 2 weeks at a time and then move on to the next set.  This allows your teeth to slowly move into the position desired by your dentist.  (For my teeth, I had 50 sets made which would take about a year until straight teeth.)  They didn’t know if it was OK, so they told me to call The Ministry of Health and Welfare 厚生省 and fill out any necessary paperwork.  The long story long is I am limited to 1 set for “personal use” or I need a Japanese dentist to sign for and “take responsibility” for the package.  Obviously, if I had a Japanese dentist, I wouldn’t be in this situation!  I think they were suspicious that I was selling something illegally or something.  So I had them sent back 🙁

      Matty Zell

  • Dentist

    Today I went to the dentist…! for the first time since I’m in Japan… and for the first time in…

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  • Hmmm, you guys seem to have it pretty dodgy compared to me in Australia!

    My dentist always has soothing music playing and the lcd screen on the roof of the room so you can look up at it while he does work. Costs me nothing, as it is paid for by the government.

  • Dentist

    I’m a dentist and I’ve read the comments and would like to put my 2 cent’s worth in as well 🙂

    1- the “pointy thing” is no longer regarded as being essential for checking for cavities and it is taught at universities that you may even mildly damage the tooth by poking too hard with it. So where as you thought the dentist was being lazy and uneducated, they were, in fact, doing the right thing.

    2- most dental surgeries in Western Countries dont have LCD screens/TV’s/super-dooper entertainment systems. Having said that, I provide my own patients with a Walkman which has a radio. Simple, yet effective and often appreciated 🙂

    3- I dont know about Japan, but in Singapore, a country which prides itself as being prosperous, while being surrounded by 3rd world neighbours, it is illegal to use Nitrous Oxide/laughing gas.

    Have a good day y’all!

  • DDS

    I am also a dentist, and the doc’s comments before me make me fairly uncomfortabe to say the least.   The “pointy” thing you refer to is an explorer , and it is absolutely the standard of care in detecting caries in the U.S.A. –  ALL dental schools teach you how to use one .   Don’t know what the other Dr is talking about, must have been taught on the West Coast.

  • Maxster
    Case By Case

    I was in the Marine Corps for 8 years back in the states. The Navy has some of the best doctors and dentists in the world due to their considerable funding.

    Last Decemeber I had to go to the dentist after having lived in Japan for over four years. My Japanese friend referred me to hers and it was the best experience I have ever had. I have since gone one more time for a root canal and was even more impressed.

    As far as going three or four times for one problem, this is true. However, I didn’t mind as I found it rather relieving to only go for 15 minutes versus an hour. To say one system is better than another without understanding the system is inept.

    I have heard of many dentists in America only working 4 or 5 days a week. Of course one reason for this is the high cost of dentistry in the States. Dentists and doctors in Japan are in most cases not wealthy. I know a Japanese heart doctor and my immediate image was that he was well off but that was not true at all.

    My root canal cost 12,000 yen (not on Japanese insurance system). It was done in the friendliest, cleanest, and most professional dentist’s office I have been in. I had no problems and the crown was white resin (3,000 yen) which was much less expensive than the porcelain and much better than the silver.

    As far as English speaking dentists, we as foreigners are wrong for not speaking Japanese. It is our problem not theirs.




  • Conartistdentists
    Be prepared to see a dentist in Japan at least 5 times

    I love Japan but many (not all I hope) dentists here sadly only do 5-10 mins of work max per patient and we have to keep returning for a simple filling job. Does someone know what to do to prevent this without hurting the feeling’s of the licensed conman that is gonna be putting pointed mental items in one’s mouth?

  • ImScared
    I think I am going to move to Japan.

    Just the other day Saturday, January 20, 2007 I went to see an American dentist in Chicago, Illinois.  I heard about this great plan on the radio that accepted payment plans as an option {(800) NEW DENTIST.}  I thought this was a great way to go to the dentist considering it has been over 10 years, and I don’t have insurance.  I went in to the downtown Chicago office thinking since it is downtown I would be able to feel safe.  I went in for a general cleaning, check for unhealthy teeth, and possible whitening in the future.  They took x-rays, and told me I have two cavitiies, needed to get my wisdom teeth pulled, and do not have the option to whiten my teeth because they said they were a shade of grey. I do not have grey teeth, they were making me feel very uncomforatable.  They skipped talking about my oral health, and my cavities and began speaking of ways to whiten my teeth, and the best way to do so would be by getting veneers.  I had no idea what all of this was, they showed me what my smile would look like, but they did not tell me how the procedure is done.  I am not going to say they decided for me…but it was rushed and pushed and I ended up agreeing, and I signed paperwork.  Before the dentist operated on me I asked him if he was going to do the cleaning…he said “it doesn’t look like it is included, I will go find out.” 

    When he came back in to the room he said, “it is included in the procedure.”  I said, “my health first”. 

    As they were numbing my gums…I had no sense of feeling, and thought they were drilling my cavities…and cleaning my teeth.  Little did I know they were shaving my teeth down and propping them for veneers.  I was scared I told the assistant lady, she said that it will be okay and you’ll look great.  The whole time I was in their the vibe was overpowering, and didn’t feel right.  They had total control.

    When they were finished with me, everyone that was part of the office had now left, except for the assistant and the dentist.  I asked the assistant if she had any paperwork, and boyfriend was standing right their and she said “No”.

    She said the temporaries that they put in would only last three to four weeks.  The whole operation was costing $5,000.00.  I had put $1,000.00 down but I thought I was getting my cavities filled, and my teeth cleaned.  It was horrible.

    I didn’t have any paperwork, and I was miserable and still am about what happened.  They said I have to come up with another $1,500.00 to even get started on the payment plan.

    I called friends and a lawyer, he said try to get the paperwork…and try to dispute the $1,000 bucks with the credit card company…he said tell them to do an investigation first because I might have signed something that said I might have to pay for disputing charges.. I will not know how this pans out until Monday or Tuesday maybe Wednesday.  Worse part is these temporaries will only last 3-4 weeks, and she said if they start getting deformed, I could come in for touch ups until I get the real thing.  I am so scared, tired, drained, disgusted, and hurt by the whole thing.

    I called the non-emergency number and they told me to fill out this mediation and peer review paperwork on cds.org.  She said it might take a while to get any results.  But she did mention that it is a little odd they did all of this in one day.  I said yeah.

  • Sherry
    Awful Dentist Visit

    I go to the dentist to get a filling that had cracked refilled.  As she was drilling and giving me the filling on my top left back tooth, all of a sudden she took the drill to the opposite side of my mouth and started drilling.  I thought to myself well maybe she is cleaning something off so she continued to do it and stopped for a second and I said whoooooo why are u drilling this tooth and she says oh I’m not I’m just resting my hand on that tooth.  I am like no way and she continues on and she does it again and I stop her and she says I wasnt doing that and then she says well you are thur see ya later…. I get to the car and look in mirror and that tooth had a clear indention in it where she purposedly unloosened another filling so I would have to come back I guess… What in the world was she thinking that I wouldnt know….. Now I dont know what to do… I think it is mal practice… Any suggestions??

  • Angryteeth
    Japanese Dentist in America

    My dentist is Japanese, but is now located in California.  His national origin probably does not have anything to do with anything, but FYI, I too experienced many of the problems that you described in your original post.  His office was dirty.  He only checked my teeth by sight (no pokey-thing, no x-rays).  He never spoke a word to me.  In fact, nobody in the office did beyond the necessary “rinse.”  Worst of all, he did not even comment on the VERY OBVIOUS WISDOM TOOTH THAT I HAVE POKING THROUGH MY GUMS.  Now I need to get my wisdom teeth extracted and I am terrified to go to this guy again because I just know how badly it will hurt and how little information he will give me about caring for it after the surgery.  Furthermore, if he does a bang-up job (which I expect he will), who can I go to to fix it afterward?  No one!  My insurance won’t cover visits to anyone else, and after the visit to have the teeth removed, I will have used up my alloted twice-yearly dentist vists.  I hate dentists.  I hate this dentist especially.  I don’t particularly care one way or the other about Japanese people, but this dentist sure isn’t doing much to combat stereotypes.

  • Joe

    Angryteeth: Seems odd that you’re asking. The solution seems obvious – go to a different dentist.

    ImScared: I hate to say it, but it sounds like your fault. You’re supposed to go to the dentist once every six months. Personally I would be immediately wary of a dentist that advertises (however for all I know they might all advertise in America) also the whole ‘payment plan’ sounded fishy from the off. Essentially, you’ve been conned into getting a treatment you didn’t want, for more money than you were willing to pay.

    All I can say is, get insurance and go to a reputable dentist?

    As for my experiences with dentistry in Britain – I’ve gone (for free checkups) every six-to-twelve months since I was old enough to remember. I had braces fitted and an inch-big overbite corrected, for free, by an NHS orthodontist in a hospital. I’ve had two fillings (as a child) treated for free, in one session, no problems. I’ve had during my life four teeth removed (for the brace) and two fillings, and I’ve never once felt pain.

    I’ve never been X-rayed or poked with a stick. My dentist uses a mirror on a stick, and visually checks each tooth. Treatment is no longer entirely free because I’m not a child, but still a university student so I can claim it back. Also here (although this isn’t relevant) dentists don’t style themselves ‘dr so-and-so’. All in all, thank God for the NHS and proper regulation of medical and dental practitioners.

  • Tokyotoe
    Japanese dentists…

    I guess that everyone has a different experience. My Japanese dentist (and long-time friend) here in Tokyo really sorted my teeth out some years ago, replacing old (British) National Heath Service fillings with inlays, and the quality of the work is stupendous. I freely admit to being scared of dentists and not at all good with pain. He always offers me anaesthetic, and asks me to give him a signal if I feel any pain. I guess that it helps that I can speak a little Japanese.

    I recently broke a tooth on a trip back to Britain, and this is requiring some major work – including a crown to be fitted onto an inlay peg. He asked me if I would like to try without anaesthetic, which I did, and I found that the very short and not too searing pain was manageable, but he was concerned and solicitous, stopping to ask me if I was OK and if I wanted the area numbing. He also warned me when to expect something hot, cold or bad-tasting, and is careful to explain what he is doing as he goes along.

    Maybe there is a problem with communication when non-Japanese speaking patients attend Japanese dental surgeries?

    The one thing that does take a little getting used to is being in an open plan dental surgery with other patients and dentists.

    I suppose that you just have to be lucky with your dentist.

  • Leo Mendoza

    For me Dentist in japan is not horror its evil..I have a story to tell that some more foreigners will be able to learn or change there minds to go to a Japanesse dental clinic…First day i explain it ferpectly the main problem of my teeth then they take a photo of all my teeth and x ray it ..Its cost 5,000 Yen 50 dollars with insurance its one day..Because i have a job i can not go to dentist everyday i told them we will continue my consultation every saturday..OK i visit them in saturday explanation again they told me they have been seen some bacteria from my root of my teeth uper and lower teeth *3 teeth*..Because my teeth was cover with porcelain crown they take it out they replace with a new one and i want my front teeth to have a new porcelain crown cup ..OK the begining of worse evil.. senario …. This consultation was start at august 8 200 8and it finish it by july 20 2009.One year…i been shock what i see they using stainless crown teeth like a uncle grandfather,grandmas i was been like a terminator other was porcelain but they are not pit for my teeth i mean theres so many hole that will stock any food if i eat FUCCCCCCCCCK the size is terrible when i see it in the mirror it seems that i was DRACULA FUCKKKK The size …FUCKKK then i talked to them this is not good can you change it then next saturday they put another porcelain crown ohhh my god its like do re mi fa so la ti do higher notes to small notes teeth with sever shock i cant talk i was so scared i been traumatize …I cant eat sleep i dont want to go outside to see my friends im always staying at my bed >>>NIGHT Mare …..I resign in my job..Almost 8 months i have no job i dont want to do anything except staying at bed..In that matter i was consult to a police station they told me to be calm when im talking ,just go ahead and complain..on that they i went to evil dentist to complain i told them please back all the money that i paid,i tell them im lost my job,my pried ,my enjoyment,my smile,my fellings,my confidence im lost everything with this fucking teeth i tell them also i want to die because of these..This dentist was graduated from TOKYO University..What kind of DENTIST he issss…Fuck your mother idiot dentist…Were did he get her fucking license …He dont been explain anything regarding what kind of teeth or crown that he will replace he didnt also explain the rules and regulations in insurance policy ..They will back my payments but my confidence to my self will not be back…Thank YOU

  • quequotion

    Wow… I really don’t feel like going now… I can confirm the rumour about drilling the hole one day and putting in the filling another then polishing it another day, in fact there are usually two other appointments preceeding all that. A standard checkup and in spection on the first day and if you need caps, a sizing on another day. It’s not unusual to spend a month getting a filling in Japan.

    I think I need about five… Is there any way to convince the dentist that I simply don’t have the time or the patience?

  • FreebooterFox

    I’ve been reading articles similar to this and find it interesting how stories seem to range from complete horrors to miracles where much needed work was performed in a comfortable, hygienic environment and winds up being much cheaper than cost here in the U.S. I’ve actually been trying to learn more about orthodontics in Japan- I’ve noticed a lot lately that idols and actors…Public figures who seem to have the rest of their appearance polished don’t seem to mind when their canines stick out in front of their incisors, or when they have obvious malocclusion, whereas you’ll find people here in the U.S. who obsess over their teeth but have dull hair or less than stellar skin. I’m kind of generalizing, but now I kind of wish I could hear a bit about the Japanese perspective on dentistry in terms of the experiences of those who have been born and raised there.

    I’ve yet to go to Japan, but it’s not as if horror stories are unique to the country, so I can only guess it’s good to take advice with a grain of salt a do a lot of research before you render your chompers helpless under someone else’s hands. I seem to be a bit resistant to the effects of novocaine, so I’ve got some stories of my own where dentists have drilled in the wrong spots, or drill even though I still feel pain. On one occasion a guy stuck me with the novocaine needle 12 different times in an attempt to numb a molar, instead numbing the rest of my mouth to the point where I looked like a stroke victim. Once I was old enough to pick my own dentist I found one that works through “sedative dentistry,” using relaxants like Valium or IV sedation to ensure patients don’t feel any pain or are inhibited by fear that might be the product of past visits with inexperienced and under-qualified dentists. The catch now is just the absolutely insane cost to catch up on almost twenty years of lack of care and insanely incorrect drilling…If one manages to get good dental care while they’re young (I certainly didn’t) then it’s worth the cost even to pay out of pocket for regular visits to maintain your teeth than it is to let them rot for several years and hope a good dentist can be found that won’t bleed your wallet dry.