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Guest Post: That Day I Went to the Dentist in China

A guest post by Marcus:

The “trembling” as I have so-named that certain sense of dread associated with the prospect of visiting a Chinese hospital, started not two weeks ago with an ominous, rumbling feeling emanating from my back teeth.

If one were to assign pathetic fallacy to the actual hospital, one might envisage a decrepit, older-man, losing his teeth and his hair. With bits of food stuck in his beard and a face in dire need of a washcloth. The building, sat nestled in amongst a collection of similar ram-shackled buildings, is the Huaihua, Number 1 hospital.

As I made my way to the third floor, the dental department, my faithful translator at my side, I was greeted like the prodigal son returning home (I should mention that the city of Huaihua has only recently been opened to ‘outsiders’ and the sight of my shiny white-face always causes a stir.)

The facilities were…let’s say, classic dentist facilities; three of those adjustable chairs in a row but with a lovely big window for people to watch. It was at that point that I noticed the acupuncture chart on the wall.

A bizarre diagram detailing all the places one could theoretically jab a needle into ones face to alleviate pain. Now, I don’t like needles at the best of times (who does really?) but seeing this was almost enough to send me running, my wisdom teeth be damned. I’d just do it Tom Hanks style in Castaway; slam a rock into my face and be done with it.

 But my friend was certain that all was well, in fact, this was a good example of a dentist surgery, she assured me; she had seen worse.

The dentist drilled and poked about in my mouth, I just tried to relax and think about how much more food I could fit in once my teeth were back to full chewing capacity.

As I braced myself against the cool water being flooded amongst my teeth, now with several nerves exposed (owie!) the question jumped into my head, why wasn’t I offered acupuncture for the pain? Why wasn’t I offered ANY kind of relief?

I must at this point say that I wouldn’t have been interested in acupuncture, the very thought of it would have made my teeth grind so hard as to undo any repairs the dentist had made, but I was still curious. After a moment of conversation between my friend and the dentist, she returned with;

“He didn’t think you need it, you are strong and you do not need pain relief.”

After the initial feeling of ‘manliness’ at being called “strong”, I then reflected on my time in China as a whole.

In my experience, the Chinese people are very reluctant to seek pain relief, especially in the form of painkillers, even something relatively tame, like Paracetamol.

Western medicine is slowly trickling through to the more rural parts of China. But the attitudes towards it are not changing even a fraction as quickly.

My friend told me, on my first occasion trying to purchase some from the local pharmacy, that they would not sell me anything strong, warning that they are “too addictive.” People generally look down on those who use painkillers. One woman, a friend of my translator, had even hidden the fact she was taking Paracetamol from her husband, for fear that he might punish her!

The best I was offered was a measly 150mg per tablet, of Ibruprofen and sent on my way with a big box of herbal tea. The tea, I was assured, would completely cure the route of my pain.

I’m sure it will too, as I have to add so much sugar to make it drinkable, that it will probably rot my teeth away. CURED!

And as I sip my tea, my teeth still aching, I find myself considering the idea of slamming a rock into ones face as an equally effective solution compared to this tea.

I bet the results of any studies between the two methods would show a similar success rate…all I need are some volunteers…anyone?

Featured image credit: Gamma Man


Marcus is an English language teacher currently residing in Hunan province, China. To sum up in one word: PuppysCartoonsWritingPhotographyCoffeshopsVideogamesPaintingHikingCycling.

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