A Little House of Horrors
Statistically it was almost unavoidable. Following a few years without dental problems, an accident forced me to visit a foreign dentist in a foreign land.
The accident was related to a journal I wrote for IgoUgo, namely the Dining on Wheels one. That journal was in the category of the fast ones: I conceived the idea and a couple of hours later most of the journal was done. It was an easy one. To celebrate the successful event, I bought a guava at a street stall. In Thailand those are served unripe, cut in chunks and with a little bag of sugar and chili to dip the greenish chunks.
As always while in Khaosan Road, my eyes darted from one attraction to another; I wasn’t really paying attention to my healthy snack until a seed hit a filled tooth and the filling decided to search for a better future in the company of the seed.
The filling was small but strategically located on the corner of the tooth. I could feel the sharp edge; leaving it unattended was unthinkable.
Knowing well the area, I approached a dental clinic on the western end of Rambuttri Road. Since it there for a few years while catering for tourists, I assumed it would be safe. Once there, I learned I would need to wait until the next morning. Disappointed (I have learned to enjoy the round-the-clock nature of Bangkok), I left.
Next day, at the hour stated by the sign, I opened the glass door and greeted in Thai the only person inside. Later she was to help the doctor.
"Come back in an hour," she told me.
I left only after making sure she wrote me down at the top of the list for the day.
An hour later, a respectable Thai lady received me. The diploma behind her stated she had studied in the US.
"What happened?" she asked.
After hearing the story, she repeated the under the circumstances unavoidable Thai joke:
"Farang eat farang!" she happily said in mixed up Thai and English. "Guava" in Thai is "farang," which is also the word used as a nickname for Western tourists.
Then she quoted a price close to fifty dollars. Knowing the market, I knew it was roughly five times the regular price for a Thai.
"OK, just do a good job please," I said smiling.
Following the usual preparations, she picked up the drill and said "Open your mouth!"
"You forgot the anesthetic injection," I said still unworried.
"We don’t use it here for such little jobs," she said and brought the drill closer to my now tightly closed mouth.
Images of Steve Martin as a sadist dentist in "A Little House of Horrors" filled my mind.
"The horror! The horror!" said Mr Kurtz.
"Don’t panic!" I thought and pushed away the worrying images. "Think Thai!" was the next thought. She was overcharging me, but was unaware I knew that. I had a suitable leverage for the negotiation.
"I’ll pay extra for the injection," I said and closed my mouth quickly.
My tone told her I knew she had asked for too much. If she would ask for more she would lose face and look greedy instead of genuinely interested on the well-being of a foreign visitor.
"No problem, I give you an injection," she surrendered with a sigh.
In the next few minutes she performed a very professional job. "Is it too high?" she finally asked. Minutes later I was out and an hour after that forgot about the whole incident.
A Month Later
One month later – still in Bangkok – the new filling abandoned me for no good reason.
"No problem, the place is clean. It was too high," she quickly summarized upon my return to the dental clinic.
"I won’t charge you, it was my fault," she said.
"Thank you," I answered, knowing her statement was not true.
"I won’t charge for the job, but you’ll pay for the injection," she added narrowing her eyes.
Without knowing how much would she asked for, I had the feeling I could quote the exact amount. "OK," I answered.
This time she worked on that single tooth for over ninety minutes. After placing the new filling, she began shaping it while taking the parallel one as a model. It seemed to me that she was working on a microscopic scale, shaping every thousandth of a millimeter of the new filling. It was obvious she was attempting godly perfection.
"Wash your mouth," she finally said and walked out the room.
"How much is it?" I said once at the reception room.
"Three-hundred baht." That was about ten dollars and very probably the real price for such a job in Thailand. In a kind of awkward way she was silently accepting me as part of the Thai universe. No more overcharge for me. I paid gladly.
And the tooth? A few months later, I am convinced this is the finest dental work I ever had.