A visit to the dentist in Vietnam

A dentist is seen checking a patient's teeth in Vietnam
A dentist is seen checking a patient’s teeth in Vietnam

A while back I ran a feel-good story about a great experience with a doctor in Vietnam. That article prompted alert readers to write: “OK, but what about the dentists?”

Well, the short version is they’re pretty darned good too – at least most of them are.

I haven’t had much experience with dentists around the country, but I did go to a glitzy “Western” dental office in Da Nang once for teeth cleaning. Very professional setup, with photographs of the Western dentist placed strategically around the office as well as his various certificates and degrees, and of course a few choice photos with patients showing off their gleaming white teeth, presumably taken after treatment.

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I went back several times in an attempt to give them my business but he was never there. The prices were Western – they had that part right – so perhaps someone just set it all up from abroad and was raking it in, showing up now and then or not at all.

Or I suppose it’s possible he doesn’t even exist, now wouldn’t that be funny?

In the end I went to a genuine hole-in-the-wall dentist’s office that a local friend recommended. It was more like a local neighborhood barber shop than a dentist’s office, with rickety old chairs that had been around for decades, lots of people sitting around talking, and a general aura of wear and tear.

The staff, however, were fresh as a daisy and right on the ball. A man who I presumed to be the owner came and poked around in my mouth and quoted a price. I was then ushered into a back room that was somewhat more slick than the front, possibly designated for up-market customers and foreign tourists.

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The whole operation was spotlessly clean and the dentist who worked on me did a great job although he did make whining noises about the condition of my teeth. No idea what he could have been thinking. Do people with clean teeth usually go to him to get them even cleaner? Strange to say the least.

Anyway, I left thinking that although I probably wouldn’t trust those dentists with a root canal, they are just fine for routine jobs.

A few months ago, I had a gnarly old tooth way in the back corner that had been giving me fits for weeks. True to form, I ignored it until it drove me to the edge of insanity. I did learn that cold beer definitely numbs the pain, but despite guzzling copious amounts I’d finally reached the end of my tether.

I pulled the Facebook group trick again since it had worked so well with the doctor in the past and asked for local recommendations. My post attracted several credible replies, among them a couple of recommendations for a particular dentist in the center of Da Lat. I found my favourite motorbike taxi man, and off we went.

In developing countries, there is usually no point in making an appointment. Even if the service provider does accept an appointment it only functions correctly if no other patient shows up just before the agreed time, so I didn’t even try to make one. I just walked in and sat down, and sure enough the staff jumped to attention.

The office was spotless, organized, and even the prices were listed on the wall in both Vietnamese and English. The staff were right on the ball too, asked me a few questions, filled out a form, and we were all set.

First up was to check my blood pressure, after which I was informed that I should go to the hospital for the extraction because my BP was on the high side. I protested, stating I’d just been on an exciting (nerve-wracking) motorbike journey to get to their office, drank a coffee just prior to that, smoked a cigarette or two in the last couple of hours, and climbed a flight of stairs in a hurry.

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All those factors probably conspired to temporarily raise my blood pressure a notch or two, at least that’s what I concluded. I think employees at dental offices don’t realize that a visit is downright scary for many patients, but I didn’t mention that point fearing it may be a sensitive topic.

Several of us huddled to negotiate and finally the team agreed to do the extraction, which was over and done with before I knew what was happening. The dentist, whose English was frighteningly fluent, swabbed that anesthetic numbing gunk over the offending area, stabbed a needle into my gums, waited a couple of minutes, then with a sharp twist and a strong yank that tooth was out in no time flat.

The doctor prescribed both antibiotics and a painkiller just in case, neither of which was needed.

The cost of the extraction was VND300,000 or about US$13 (NZ$19.00), without question a fair price in Vietnam and downright cheap compared to prices abroad.

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All in all, I couldn’t have imagined a better experience. The main objective for me is that the treatment needed is carried out professionally and effectively in a hygienic environment for a reasonable local price. It doesn’t mean having fancy decor and pretty pictures on the wall with leather furniture just to get simple dental treatment, at least not to me.

And on top of all that I didn’t even need to make an appointment weeks in advance, which is usually necessary overseas.

Can’t wait until I have another bad tooth! Well, not quite, but you get my drift.

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