Ask any American expat to name the experiences they most dread having abroad, and I think “dealing with urgent dental problems” would make almost every list. For starters, dental care in the US is absolutely fantastic. Americans take good care of their teeth, in general, and our cultural emphasis on perfection in appearance means that we want our teeth to look great, which means they need to function well and last a long time. Dentists tend to be very good at what they do, and very well trained. Secondly, there’s always something vaguely intimidating about the dentist, and that’s even when you both speak the same language. Plus, while most of us will accept that we’ll need some kind of routine medical and dental care while living abroad (everyone gets sick sometimes, plus we need annual flu shots, locally specific vaccines, and yearly check ups) I think most of us hope we can put off or postpone anything more significant until we return home to our regular, well known, English speaking doctors and dentists.
But, it doesn’t always go that way.
Last spring, I got a sudden stabbing pain in my mouth when I bit down on something (I think it was a pumpkin seed). It hurt a lot, but went away immediately and didn’t come back, so I didn’t think much about it. But then, about a week later it happened again. And then again. Every so often, it would happen — I’d bite down on something in just the wrong way and have some brief, but undeniable, pain. My teeth are generally well behaved, so I knew something was wrong. By the time I decided I needed to have it looked at, I was about 2 weeks out from my bi-annual dental cleaning and checkup, so I talked to my dentist here about it. (I also emailed my dentist at home, to get a remote second opinion.)
Both agreed — I probably had a cracked tooth. I was horrified. A lot of people who know me know that I take particularly good care of my teeth. I’m fastidious about oral hygiene, and I look after my teeth really carefully. I was pretty upset that something might be wrong with one of them — especially something that might necessitate something as drastic as a crown, or worse. My dentist here suggested a wait-and-see strategy, while my dentist at home advised that I treat it immediately, before it could get worse. I waffled. I didn’t want to do anything drastic, but I didn’t want to be chicken about it and cause myself more trouble down the road.
I decided that I’d wait until Christmas, when I’d be home in the US. I’d go see my dentist from home, and get his actual, in person opinion, and then decide how to proceed.
Which was a fine plan, except that last Wednesday, my tooth broke. A piece (I’m sure it was small, but it felt huge) broke off of one of my molars. It was kind of traumatic. (I’m very attached to my teeth.) It didn’t hurt at all, but it forced me to stop procrastinating and get it fixed. It turns out, too, that the pain wasn’t coming from the tooth that I thought it was, either (so in that way, I suppose it was good that I didn’t do anything drastic to a different, healthy tooth).
I couldn’t get in to see my dentist until yesterday. I spent much of the weekend quietly agonizing about the trauma that I imagined awaited me in terms of getting it fixed. As it turns out, it really was a small piece, and he just covered up the spot with the same stuff as for a dental filling, to prevent decay. It took less than 20 minutes and didn’t hurt at all. All my worry was for nothing. And, best of all, the intermittent pain from last spring and summer seems to be entirely gone, which is wonderful.
So, much as I never would have volunteered to have something go wrong with my teeth EVER, much less while living abroad, it was no problem at all. (And though I don’t know what the same procedure would have cost in the US, I imagine it would have been more than the €130 I paid here — and that’s before insurance reimburses us for most of it.)