The International Writers Magazine:Open Your Mouth - Dental
Care Indian Style
people from the West now indulge in healthcare tourism
visiting India for healthcare in order to avoid waiting
lists or costly services back home. I thought that I would get
in on the act. I didnt visit India for this purpose, but
found myself requiring dental treatment while here.
Like many westerners,
I am always a bit dubious about receiving health treatment in India
mainly because horror stories abound, some real but most imaginary,
about standards of hygiene and care. Some other traveller had recommended
a dentist, so I attended just to check it out. I looked through the
window and all seemed to be in order. It was fairly clean, had a waiting
room, and had various certificates of qualification framed and hanging
on the wall. So I told myself that I would visit for treatment the next
day based on my in-depth analysis and evaluation of the place. Its
amazing just how much comfort can be gained from just glancing through
a window and seeing a few chairs and pieces of paper.
Most people who I know hate going to the dentist and Im no different.
And it doesnt help very much if you have seen a film from the
1970s called Marathon Man. In the film the American actor Dustman
Hoffman is kidnapped, drugged and then wakes to find he is in a dentists
chair with Laurence Olivier, who plays a former Nazi officer, standing
over him with drill in hand. Olivier wants to know where a hidden stash
of wartime treasure is located and is convinced that Hoffman knows.
But he doesnt have a clue.
Olivier continuously asks in his German accent Is it safe?,
referring to the diamonds. Hoffman doesnt know what he means.
Olivier does a bit of tooth drilling to jolt Hoffmans memory.
And rest assured hes not replacing fillings. Hes deliberately
drilling into the nerve of the tooth. Viewers can empathise with the
pain as Hoffman screams and squirms in the seat. Is it safe?
the same question over and over again. This goes on for a seeming
eternity. Hoffman is unstrapped, taken away, only to return for some
more excruciating torture some hours later. Olivier gave the profession
of dentistry a bad name and lets face it, it never really
had a good one to start with.
The night before I visit the dentist, for some inexplicable reason,
this scene from the film plays in my mind over and over again. I wouldnt
mind, but I havent seen the film for over a decade. Walking to
the dentist, it is still in my mind, and when finally in the chair,
I have visions of Laurence Olivier peering into my mouth with menace
and with drill in hand, ready to take great pleasure in tormenting me.
I am jolted from my fantasy as the dentist informs me that I require
two fillings and a crown. With no anesthetic, she begins to drill and
drill. She must be Oliviers long lost daughter I think to myself.
She hits a nerve. I grimace, but let her continue. Again it happens.
She cannot understand why I am in pain. Im not touching
the gum she says. At that point I begin to wonder if she has indeed
come straight from the Laurence Olivier School of Dentistry. Does she
not realise that in the centre of each and every tooth, there is a bundle
of nerves that when drilled into causes extreme agony? I keep waiting
for her to ask Is it Safe? or for Olivier himself to walk
through the door with sinister grin and drill in hand.
After having spent two hours in the chair I am informed that I must
return in the evening to have my tooth ground down to the stump in order
to fit a crown. Ground down to the stump. What an unnerving
phrase. She could have at least sugar coated it to make it sound better.
I return in the evening. I am called from the waiting room to sit in
the surgery itself. A middle aged woman is in the chair and the dentist
is tugging away, extracting a tooth. Ive never witnessed this
sort of thing before. In the UK everything is done behind closed doors,
with personal privacy and away from public gaze. This particular dentist
surgery kind of mirrored what goes on in the street outside where people
act out much of their lives in full public view. Or perhaps she had
just called me in for a special viewing as a taster for the pain in
Then it is my turn. But to my surprise, she is not the one going to
do the grinding down. I am in the chair and I turn to see the back of
a grey haired man with a drill in his hand. Its Olivier
himself! He turns and I am brought back to reality. He is Mr.Gupta
and tells me he was trained in London. He administers an injection and
begins to drill. The whole procedure turns out to be a painless affair.
Some words of advice for dental healthcare tourists herein India. The
quality of care is good, but dont get obsessed with a certain
American film, German SS camps, and sadistic torturers. It does nothing
for your state of mental health. Believe me.
© Colin Todhunter December 2004
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