Earlier this week I had my first dentist visit in Korea. Yeah mom, I know I should have gone like 3 times by now. Oh well. Anyway so I got a reference from my coworker for a dentist with decent English, made the call and got an appointment a few days later.
So what was the difference between a dentist here and a dentist at home?
There were a few positive and negative differences; Here are three major positives at Dr. Lee’s clinic.
1) Its super easy to get an appointment at a Korean dentist.
I texted him and exactly 63 minutes later they texted me back.
Hi, i am dr lee,^^
what’s your name?
i will open my clinic next week
what day will be good fotlr you?
except for thursday morning off
I booked a 2:00 appointment and off I went. Super easy.
2) Korean dentists are dirt cheap
Yeah sure Korea has nationalized healthcare so everything is much cheaper. The insurance covers 1 cleaning per year so it came to a total of ₩13,500. They added ₩7,500 for using x-rays & digital photographs but then I got a discount for the package and paid ₩17,100. That means they originally told me it would be about $20 and instead it was only $17.
I asked how much I’d pay for a 2nd visit later in the year since I’m only covered for 1. ₩40,000. $40! Are you shitting me? I was paying $40 in the US when I HAD insurance covering it and $165 without insurance. And thats just for a cleaning. No X-rays, photographs or any other extras.
They told me I’ll need 2 minor cavities filled. He uses a state of the art resin that can be upwards of $200 in America. Even the cheap stuff back home will put you at least $135 back per tooth. ₩80,000 ($80) here.
3. Dental Technology
Back home x-rays are rarely covered by insurance and put you out an arm and a leg. The only visuals you get are in your head if you’re lucky enough to have a dentist who includes a detailed description of your mouth while he’s in there (or perhaps unlucky enough). In Korea they took a 360° x-ray which was already on display when I sat down in the chair. He used the image (see below) to point out how awesome my teeth are! If there were any major issues they would have been displayed right there.
While he was doing an inspection he took lots of digital photos with a camera equivalent to what I’ve got in my smartphone. They were instantly displayed on the same screen and he went tooth by tooth to show me whether it was healthy, had a minor cavity or any staining. Turns out I had 4 minor cavities, 2 that need a small filling and 2 that just need to be taken care of. I’ve heard of Korean dentists scamming people into thinking they need extra work done but this guy was incredibly professional. It was obvious the difference between my healthy teeth and those that needed a little work.
Dr. Lee went on to point out a few places my gums receded from having braces (which he knew even though I didn’t say anything). He gave me some techniques to keep them healthy but said its a high risk area to keep an eye on but doesn’t need any work right now.
The last thing he pointed out was what his hygienist would clean. I had some buildup after nearly a year and a half avoiding the dentist. After the cleaning they showed me before & after pictures and holy hell is there a difference!
Unfortunately that’s where the positive differences end. There are some oddities like how they covered my whole face with a bib leaving only a slit for my mouth or the say “uh.” if you feel pain “scream AHHHHH” if lots of pain. Mumbling in Korean has become a daily part of my auditory life but this was the first time someone was face first in my mouth speaking another language.
So what about the bad stuff. It can’t all be good right?
Unfortunately that’s true. Aside from rumors about scamming foreigners which my dentist proved false there was one other thing. It could have been the delay in between dental visits, it could have been a random coincidence based on dentist/hygienist but my sample set says Korean dentists hurt more!
In American when they clean its more often a light scraping with an electric brush and the whole thing doesn’t feel like sunshine & roses but its not that bad. In Korea they lean into each scrape and really dig out the gums. Basically they do a thorough dental scaling, it wasn’t excruciating and I only said “uh” a few times.
The whole experience ended quickly and although I’m not excited to go back I’m looking forward to taking care of those minor cavities and not worrying about my teeth for another year!
I highly recommend Dr. Lee in Miasageori. He’s right near the subway station and a graduate of Yonsei University. Call or text him at +82 10-6325-2875. You can tell him Mike sent you if you want. If that’s not convenient for you I’ve heard of some great foreign dentists in the Itaewon area. You can check online forums too but my recommendation is to simply ask a friend who’s been here for a few years if they found a dentist that they trust.
What have your dental experiences been like outside of America? Do you think this is a typical dental experience in America too?