My First Visit to a Korean Dentist

I’m pretty fortunate my teeth have not rotted out of my head by now.

I feel so exposed.
I feel so exposed.

Not that I don’t take reasonably not terrible care of my chompers. I brush twice a day (usually) and floss regularly. But, I remember how my mother always said she was born with “soft gums,” which resulted in her having poor teeth. When she eventually got false teeth, not an afternoon went by where she got home from work and took them out at her earliest opportunity because they were so uncomfortable. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure she could eat an apple with those gums.

This unfortunate condition, whether real or imagined, has touched various branches of the family tree. Thankfully, my branch is relatively intact, despite at one point not seeing a dentist for 14 years.

I have now been in Korea for over two-and-a-half years, however. And, at 36 years old, have noticed various wear and tear everywhere. A shoulder that often aches, several fingers which may be arthritic or just screwed, the ankle I popped early last year and never had surgery to fix. That one’s on me. The others I can probably blame on being 36.

Tools of the trade.
“Think simple! We plus a smile in your heart.”

I was supposed to get a crown for one tooth in 2005 (a high-five if you can figure out which one from the picture above and post in the comments!), right before the first time I tried to come to Korea. The dentist told me I needed to come right back after my year was up to get that crown put on or else the temporary concrete filling will crack. I stayed that time in Korea less than two months, but I never went back to that dentist. And, that concrete-filled temporary stump still remains. Despite 10 years of good fortune, I realized it was time to visit a dentist.


I admit it wasn’t just laziness keeping me out of the dentist’s chair here. I was also a frightened little man baby. There had been the stories of Korean dentists being a bit too thorough in their approach, leaving gums red and raw as they scrape, scrape, scrape along that gum line. There also had been tales of opportunistic dentists declaring this, that and the other thing (especially the other thing) needing additional work, requiring additional visits, requiring lots and lots of additional won.

But, when a friend recommended a dentist in the Kyungsung University area in Busan, I decided it was time to pop my Chia Cherry  (chia, pronounced ch-yah, is a word for tooth).

One of the pluses of going to this dentist’s office is there is a very nice girl there who speaks enough English to help out the lost and confused foreigners walking in circles in the lobby. Everything was explained well enough to know I wasn’t getting screwed, either from ignorance or deceit, and I was in a dentist’s chair within 10 minutes.

Simple commands the dental hygienist knew (stop, it’s OK, etc., especially etc.) helped move the process along. And, no, there wasn’t any of the aforementioned scrape, scrape, scrape to leave my mouth a ravaged mess. I was told I should get a new filling for a tooth, but wasn’t told it had to be done right away, which was appreciated (since I have no money to do that).

Happy foreigners.
Happy foreigners.

For the cleaning, which felt more thorough but not more painful than what I would have gotten in the U.S., I was charged 15,000. This was odd, considering the friend who recommended the place to me was charged 4,500. And her friend who recommended the place to her was charged my price. What gives? Apparently, the cost fluctuates depending on when the patient is serviced. Does that make any sense?

Regardless of the higher price tag, I was happy to have had the treatment, which the English translator said is available once a year through Korean health insurance. It’s still a small price to pay for a more thorough cleaning than my floss and brush can do.

So, if you’ve been thinking about going to a dentist here but have been on the fence for any of the reasons I mentioned, hopefully this little missive has helped ease some of your worries. Of course, I could have gotten lucky with a hygienist who has a gentle touch, and another might get all up in that mouth of yours. If that is still a concern, hopefully this bloated container full of toothbrushes will be enough balm to soothe you into the office.

Your teeth will be SO CLEAN.
Your teeth will be SO CLEAN.

Walk-in’s welcome!

KSU subway stop, exit 6. It's in this building, which you'll see almost immediately.
KSU subway stop, exit 6. It’s in this building, which you’ll see almost immediately.

JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.