Going to the Dentist in Japan

Bye Bye Oyashirazu – Going to the Dentist in Japan

Going to the dentist or the doctor is probably nobody's favorite thing to do. Especially when you are traveling or living in another country, doctor's visits are never fun. A few months ago I had to go for a check up to the dentist down the street. On a sunny Tuesday I entered the small dentistry where first, I had to take off my shoes and draw house slippers out of a shoe vender.

I knew handling the patient forms would be quite the challenge so the lady at the desk let me fill out whatever I was able to understand and she took care of the rest. That helped a lot and with raised spirits I headed into the room where three dentist chairs were lined up next to each other. My first reaction was: What? I don't get my own room? I was a bit worried, I would have to watch another patient's operation, but they pulled down a little curtain that hid the other chairs from my view.  At dentist rooms back in Germany I never know where to put my belongings, but here I found a little basket for my purse next to my chair. The nurse even gave me a blanket in case I got cold.

After the first check up, my dentist exclaimed that my Oyashirazu (Japanese for wisdom tooth) needed to be pulled. I was sent home with a letter that referred me to go to a hospital where the operation had to take place since it was a difficult procedure. Here are some of the steps I went through from that point on, which should help you too, if you need to get your tooth pulled and don't know what awaits you.

1. Tell Your Dentist, If You Don't Understand What He is Talking About

At the hospital I was basically sent to their Dentistry Department. I had to fill out paper works again and struggled with Japanese. It is discouraging if you don't understand the forms, but it is important that you tell the staff and your dentist, if you have no clue what is going on. When my doctor started talking about my anesthetic options, I was completely lost. I didn't understand a single thing and didn't know how to express that either.

2. Get Help From Friends or Translation Apps

Photo by Danny Choo on Flickr.

I ended up letting the dentist and nurses use my phone to type in the words I didn't understand in my translation app. Imi wa for Android and IOS is my favorite app to use. If you install a Chinese character handwriting keyboard in your settings you can even draw kanji you don't know and it recognizes and translates it for you. 

If you have Japanese friends, ask one of them to come along and translate for you. My dentist even acted out some of the procedures for me. Japanese have grace on foreigners. They know their language is hard and going to the doctors is intimidating for us.

3. Always Return to the Front Desk Before Leaving

Paying and making new appointments is always handled at the front desks. It was so weird for me at first to whip out my wallet and pay the nurse but that is how it works here in Japan. If you don't have much cash on you or can't pay with credit card, you can always tell them you will come back later to pay, so no worries if you run out of money.

4. Your Medicine

Sometimes the doctors give you medicine right after the procedure and you pay for it at the front desk. But they often send you to a pharmacy outside the hospital. After I got my tooth pulled I tried to figure out where to go to get my meds. The nurse just told me "Outside", which I didn't find very helpful, to be honest. But I found a pharmacy nearby where I handed over the papers I got from the doctors and paid about 500 Yen for all my medication. The pharmacies keep records of your medicines through a little booklet they give you. I forgot to bring it to the pharmacy but they still gave me the painkillers. One look at my foreign face compelled the pharmacist to print out instructions in English, too, which was very helpful.

Always Remember: The Japanese are very helpful and gave grace on us foreigners. It's okay to ask where to go or to let someone translate for you, especially when you need to see the doctor. 

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