korea, Life Abroad, travel

Dental Implants in Korea

Eight years ago, at the tender age of seventeen, I had my wisdom teeth taken out. It was my first surgery, and I thought I was going to have a come apart. My mom drove me to the surgeon, and I poured into the red plastic chair, trembling. She held my hand and talked to me soothingly as the nurse asked me to count backwards from ten and I drifted off. I evidently mumbled “if I die from the anesthetic…” before falling asleep, not that I recall saying it. (Not do I recall what I wanted her to do if I had indeed died from highly unlikely complications from wisdom teeth removal.)

Obviously, I was not very enthusiastic some five years later when I had to have teeth put in instead of taken out. 

I am missing my two top lateral incisors – the teeth to either side of your very front teeth. It’s a common genetic quirk; I can name two other people from the tiny college I attended with the same issue. Fortunately, this is easily fixed with dental implants.

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This skull is laughing at the fact that it has more teeth than I do.

However, my parents’ insurance does not cover dental implants, as they, like a boob job or a face-life, are considered cosmetic surgery. I was quoted five thousand dollars per tooth, for a total of ten thousand dollars

That’s a decent used sedan, people.

Therefore, I decided to wait, on the off chance that future insurance would pay for it or that sometimes in my twenties they would magically come in, along with actual bigger-than-an-A-cup boobs.

As neither happened as my twenties progressed, I decided implants were my only option. Dental ones, that is.

I moved to Korea two and a half years ago now, and subsequently became aware of Korea’s thriving medical tourism industry. In addition to having some of the best doctors and advanced medical care in the world, Korea is also approximately a million times cheaper than the States for most virtually all procedures, including dental implants. With the price hovering around two thousand dollars, it would be one-fifth as much to have my dental work done here rather than back in the States. I gritted what teeth I had and vowed to get it done while here.

After a few Google searches, I settled on a clinic in Jeonju, a medium-sized city an hour away from the minuscule town where I was living. In addition to having good reviews, it also boasted a doctor who had studied in the States for a time and therefore was completely fluent in English.

My first trip to the clinic was strictly a consultation. They checked out the space between my front teeth and canines both manually and via x-ray and assured me that, though room was tight, they could get it done. (“Korean doctors have very delicate hands because they use chopsticks!” a friend assured me.) I scheduled an appointment for the first stage of my dental implant surgery a couple of weeks later.

I showed up for my  surgery very, very anxious. The mechanics of what had to be done was straightforward: the doctor would cut a hole in my gums, drill a hole in the bone of my jaw for a metal post, and insert the aforementioned post. Then, once the bone had healed up some, they would cap the post with a prosthetic porcelain tooth.

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A demonstration of how implants are done. A metal post is inserted into the jaw.

None of this sounded very pleasant for me. I nervously asked to be sedated, and was told that it wasn’t necessary. My armpits and palms glistened, disagreeing silently.

I thought briefly about fleeing into the mountains and living my life out as a hermit in a cave somewhere.

Instead, I sat down in a chair in the main section of the dentist’s office – no private room for me. They asked if I was ready, and gently suggested that I try to relax as I looked to be under enough pressure to convert coal into diamonds. The Korean surgeon, with delicate hands, loaded me up with Novocain until I couldn’t feel my eyeballs. A sheet was placed over my face for sterile purposes, and a weighted blanket was draped over my body (which is apparently good for anxiety). Some poor nurse held my sweaty, sweaty hand and spoke to me soothingly.

The English-speaking doctor (who was assisting the surgery) walked me through what was happening until I asked politely to shut it, as it was in no way helping my anxiety levels.

The gum-cutting portion of the surgery wasn’t too bad, as I couldn’t feel it. It was over quickly. However, the drill segment was not at all agreeable. Although I couldn’t feel the pain of it in the way that one might imagine someone literally drilling into your skull, it still pressed my head into the seat and reverberated throughout my body in an unpleasant way. Being completely lucid, I could of course hear the doctors and nurses speaking above me, but being completely un-fluent in Korean, I could understand roughly five words (which I take as a blessing. The last thing I needed in my state was to hear oh gosh doodley doo, that looks bad.”

The drilling and inserting of the posts (which was more pressure on my head as the doctor screwed them into place) took less than thirty minutes. They stuffed my cheeks with gauze to soak up the residual blood and saliva and gave me a surgical mask to wear on the bus home.

“I know things are hard for foreigners in Korea,” the dentist said as she wrote me a prescription for my pain meds. “Everybody is looking at you!”

This is not a comforting fact when your face looks as though it were attacked recently by very angry hornets.

I picked up the medicine from a pharmacy downstairs and boarded my bus back home. However, before the medicine could fully kick in, the Novocain the dentist had given me for my surgery wore off. The pain was pretty rough. I sobbed as quietly as I could, in order to not call further attention to the bleeding slobbery foreigner on the bus.

It took a few weeks for my jaw to heal around the post enough to put on the porcelain teeth caps, which only took a short trip to the clinic to accomplish. As my gums hadn’t entirely healed yet the implants looked a little out of place, but since then, they’ve descended some to cover the very top of the implant and give it a more natural look.

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My new, surgically-improved smile!

 

All-in-all, the complete process took about six weeks to complete, as I had to go in for a couple of checkups to check both the post healing and the final tooth cap. It cost roughly two million won (roughly $1,900 in the US). It’s been nearly two years now since I had my dental implants done, and I have to say, I’m completely happy with them! They’re in great shape, and now I don’t resemble a mutant bunny.

Or worse, someone in a mountain of debt over teeth.

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