Living in Taiwan

A Rural Dentist Experience

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Confucius said: “The superior man makes the difficulty to be overcome his first interest; success only comes later.”

In the Wild West (and probably in many other rural places ages ago) I think the dentist was like a travelling salesman. You waited till he showed up in the town and then everyone queued to have a turn. That meant he had to bring his ‘stuff’ with him. The ‘stuff’ was only the essentials and what he could comfortably carry. Those essentials probably fitted into a case that was sturdy and could be carried easily. In every town or village someone would kindly offer him the use of a room that is not used daily, like the science classroom at the local school. There would be a table to place the all important case, a stool for him to sit on and a low chair for the patient. There would be two buckets for his use. One would be placed between the legs of the patient for the patient to spit into. The first patient would be the lucky one, all the others would be doing themselves a favour by keeping their eyes closed when they spit. One of the apparatus from the case needs to drain so the drain-tube is then inserted into the other bucket. The tube is secured to the patient’s chair with a piece of string to keep it from slipping out of the bucket when the apparatus is used vigorously by the dentist. With his wagon unload and horses grazing on the common, the dentist was open for business. 

You think this a scene from the Wild West or many small towns about 100 years ago? Yes? You are so wrong!! I have just described my first visit to the dentist in my rural village in Tainan in 2019!! Only difference is a Toyota has replaced the horses.

About two weeks ago at lunch I felt something in my mouth that should not be there. A tooth had broken. 

Initially I panicked and wanted as much information as possible, about what to do now, before the pain set in and turned me into a monster. The school nurse looked at my tooth and asked if there was pain. Then she proceeded to talk to everyone around about my situation, in Chinese. A long discussion followed with everyone giving their opinions and advice – in Chinese. Well by the time the group discussion came to a conclusion I had realised I will be pain-free through this ordeal. So I started to relax. The nurse took me to the English teacher and asked the English teacher to take me to a dentist in the next town, on her way home that afternoon. 

Hours later we walk into the dentist’s room and he takes one look at the foreigner and waves us out before we even said hello. The English teacher says she thinks he does not speak English so does not want to deal with me. I assure the English teacher I will be fine and I take the next bus back to my village. 

Next day, at Nanhua school, where I live on the campus, I ask advice again. The English teacher, a no-nonsense man, says there is a dentist who comes to the school on a Thursday morning and I can see him. I just have to bring along my medical insurance card. Back in my office I tell my tale and plans to the teachers in my office and again a discussion follows with phone calls being made, in Chinese. The conclusion is: avoid the dentist who comes to school because the students say he is not gentle. They tell me wait till next Friday at 9am, go to the local clinic and see the dentists who come from the Medical University, it’s also fee of charge and open to all the locals. So that was my, reluctant, first option. Reluctant, because on a Friday I have a very busy teaching day. So in my mind I make a mental note to talk to my superior about being late for school the following Friday and I totally forget to tell the English teacher in Nanhua about my new decision. 

Thursday morning, at about 10am I get called to the dentist’s station. The English teacher had made all the arrangements on my behalf so there is nothing to do but go to the not-so-gentle-dentist. His verdict leaves me elated: No big deal but come next Thursday morning 7:30 because it is a long process and he had to leave for another school. He spends about three hours at a school per day then he packs up all his stuff and moves to the next school in the district. 

So today was the day. A beautiful sunny day after about a week of rain and grey days. I wake early and immediately pick up the book I’m reading that I had reluctantly put down last night. I loose track of time and next moment I hear someone calling at my door. I open the door still in my pjs and find the dentist’s assistant telling me they are waiting for me. Well, I stripped out of pjs into the first clothes I touched all the while brushing my teeth. Three minutes later I’m in the chair, apologising. 

The procedure was to remove the filling in that tooth, replace it with a the new filling that would form the side of the tooth that had chipped away. No need for an injection and the whole procedure went smoothly and pain free. And the name: ‘not-so-gentle-dentist’ well, that is somebody’s opinion, it’s not a fact.  

Brave little Angela seeing the dentist at her elementary school

The science classroom serves as makeshift dentist room. See the red bucket between the student’s feet.

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