A 5-minute, $35 surgery in a foreign country.
Everything about that sentence just sounds wrong.
I was told ages ago that I needed to get my wisdom teeth removed, but like the majority of the population, I have a slight fear of the dentist. I heard that dental work is relatively cheap in Korea so I figured I may as well get a consultation to see how much it would cost to get maybe one tooth of wisdom pried out.
A friend recommended an English-speaking dentist (CK Dentist – scroll all the way down for details) so I went, got my x-rays done and headed to the much-dreaded dentist chair in the next room over. The computer screen hovering over the chair already displayed x-rays and I gawked at the unfortunate placement of this poor person’s bottom-left wisdom tooth that was emerging perpendicular into their other teeth.
“This one difficult to remove” the Korean dentist said pointing to the same tooth, “we schedule you now, needs remove.” Crap, that was my unfortunate bottom-left wisdom tooth growing in crooked.
After discussing dates, costs and interpreting their broken English and miming, I discovered that a) it was ridiculously cheap (ranging from 10,000-40,000 won each, depending on how difficult they are to get out) and b) their would be very limited drugs involved. (I know right – I thought the whole point of removing wisdom teeth was to get a Vicodin prescription.) I would be fully conscious with only a local anesthesia. So naturally, I was envisioning a Castaway-like-scene of [a Korean] Tom Hanks attempting to extract my teeth with outlandish objects like an ice skate.
I went to my 1st appointment a week later to get my two left teeth out and after half an hour of signing death-release-forms and numbing my mouth, they injected multiple shots into my gums to completely numb the “extraction area”. Of course, they waited until this time to ask me questions about my health history and my normal daily activities so I could respond in a half-coherent, lisp while drooling simultaneously.
The surgeon entered the room and started immediately. One of her assistants covered my face in a square cloth, just big enough to obstruct my vision so I had no idea what was going on. Multiple contraptions were placed in my mouth to prevent my mouth from closing or my tongue from intruding on the operation.
They started drilling my tooth and I could feel pressure but no pain. I felt them yanking at my tooth and could feel water and blood dripping down my throat, making me gag repeatedly. After several brief bouts of drilling, multiple tugs, and intermittent, exasperated sighs, I could tell they were having trouble getting my bottom-left wisdom tooth out. They leaned and pushed on my face, using it as leverage to wrench out my tooth and I waited to feel the release of the root coming out, but then they stopped.
“All done!” she said while suturing me up. “Done? Did you get them both out?” “Yes, both out. Bite hard” she said while shoving gauze in my mouth. “But it’s only been 5 minutes?” They all laughed and lead me out of the room to pay my 37,000 won bill for the two extractions. $35 for 2 wisdom teeth? You could book a round-trip flight to Korea and get your teeth removed here for less than it would cost [for the uninsured] back in The States. Awesome.
Pain didn’t come until after a few episodes of Game of Thrones, once the numbing went away, and still hasn’t completely subsided. (This is where those Vicodin would’ve really come in handy.) I also had a serious chipmunk cheek that ensued the following day. I appreciated the fact that they wanted me to be able to use at least one side of my mouth to eat (hence the two separate surgeries), but I would’ve preferred two chipmunk cheeks as opposed to the one, which, in Nate’s words, made me look like I “had a stroke” (he’s so sweet).
Round 2 wasn’t so bad. This time it was more of a 3-minute, $20 surgery to take out my 2 right wisdom teeth. I think my doctor thought that since I had already had the procedure, she didn’t need to be gentle (as if the first time around was such a pleasant experience). So no numbing cream before the gnarly injections into my gums (which was, by far, the most painful part of both surgeries), multiple people holding down my head, arms and jaw, no contraptions in my mouth to keep my mouth and tongue in place, and constant stern reminders to “close my throat” when I started coughing and gagging from blood and water dripping down my throat. Obviously, a lovely experience overall.
A first and thank GOD it’s the last as well :). As much as I relish the excuse to eat ice cream and milk shakes for breakfast (and lunch and dinner), I’m glad it’s over (mainly so I can finally have a drink -or 6- again).
How to get to CK Dentist:
The estimated cost of removal (before surgery) was 10,000 – 40,000 won (or $10-$40). This is with health insurance, however – without, I’m sure it’ll cost a lot more since a cavity filling was around 200,000 – 300,000 won (“surgery” is covered by the insurance I receive by teaching English here. Cavity fillings are not). Their English is relatively good (compared to most of Ulsan, anyway) and the building is super clean.