A dental experience that makes me smile

Updated: 2012-01-31 08:00

By Nathan Place (China Daily)

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A dental experience that makes me smile

For the first time in almost two and a half years in China, I recently went to a dentist.

I'm a Chinese-language student in Beijing and a part-time hypochondriac, and I'd been worrying about a new dent I'd noticed in one of my front teeth. So, one night, I biked over to a dentist's office I'd seen in my neighborhood to have it looked at.

I timidly opened the door at about 6 pm, half expecting the place to be closed. Sure enough, because this is China, it was still open, and a receptionist rushed up to see what I wanted. Apart from the two of us, there was no one else in the waiting room - or, it seemed, the entire office. The whole place was eerily quiet. I felt like I might have been their first patient all day.

A few seconds later, without being asked to brush my teeth or put on a bib or fill out a single form, I was sitting in a dentist's chair, being examined by not one but two hygienists.

I tried my best to explain in my limited Chinese what the problem was, and they listened with grave expressions.

One seemed to suggest I get a retainer. The other worried about a different tooth I wasn't aware had a problem. A dental experience that makes me smile

Both were wearing proper uniforms and masks and gloves, and seemed to take the whole business very seriously. I felt I was in good hands.

Then, all of a sudden, a middle-aged Chinese man in a leather jacket, who looked like he'd just gotten off the subway, appeared over me and started rooting around in my mouth with his finger. Much to my horror, he wasn't wearing gloves.

In very simple Chinese, this person barked out a few times to the hygienists, "What's the problem?" I ventured to explain. He took a look at the dent, blew it up on a TV screen with an impressive little camera-stick gadget he had and listened to the hygienists expand on my explanation.

Clearly, they were more concerned than he was.

"What are you talking about?" he shot back at them.

"His teeth are beautiful."

I tried to call his attention back to the dent, but he was unimpressed.

"This is not a problem," he said.

At that moment, I noticed he had a much larger dent in the same tooth as mine.

His diagnosis, though, was interesting.

"Maybe you've been biting this tooth because it's longer than the one next to it," he reasoned. "And, subconsciously, you want them to be the same length. If you really want, you could have it shortened so they're even. But you want my advice?"

I nodded.

"Leave it alone."

He looked at the hygienists.

"Anything else?"

We all shook our heads.

I asked him how much I owed him. "For this?" he asked, incredulously. "Nothing!"

And he marched briskly down the hall to a little room with a desk in it that seemed to be his office.

I assume he was a dentist.