I was in Thailand with a broken tooth. Granted, it had been broken for a while after chomping on some blackcurrant gummies in London, of all things. And then, while in Bangkok, I broke another one chewing blueberry gum. What was happening to my mouth? But more importantly, could I get this all fixed here for a fraction of what it'd cost me back in the States? Thailand is growing famous as a destination for dental tourism and without a dental plan, my US dentist was quoting well into four digits for a crown, so I decided to give it a go.
While researching and stopping into clinics around the city, the first warning I got was not to necessarily trust the Thai dentist clinics that rank highest in Google Search. Duh. The second was not to ask a local for a recommendation as that's about as trustworthy as the Google Search thing. Oh well, I went against the latter warning and sought advice from a local I trusted and she named The Dentist Clinic by the upscale Siam Paragon mall. Bingo.
Was I nervous for my appointment? Nope. Actually, I was oddly enthusiastic and looking forward to getting these holes in my mouth taken care of for good. And hey, if there was recuperation time, I could always spend it eating the various yummy noodles from street food carts.
Arriving at The Dentist Clinic, I noted the stylish interior, filled out paperwork like normal and met my dentist, Dr. Sanchai. I concluded that I would never have found this place on my own, as this wasn't a clinic that marketed itself for dental tourists and its website is completely in Thai. That said, I had no trouble communicating completely in English with Dr. Sanchai and his assistants, even when it came to some technical dental terms (like the fact that my broken teeth may be caused by too much exposure to fluoride—damn you, American fluoridation of water).
Thank god (Buddha?) for Dr. Sanchai. Not only did he conclude that my broken teeth were not serious enough for crowns (they only needed resin fillings), but he noted that some previous dental work by my very expensive American dentist wasn't exactly as good as it could have been.
At that moment I mentally vowed to return to Dr. Sanchai and Thailand for any serious dental work I would need in the future, because airfare and the work is still less expensive than getting it done around the corner here in the States and I'm young and spritely enough to hop around the world like this. Not to mention that Dr. Sanchai had cooler gadgets than my US dentist. That totally counts in my book.
And then it was over. Some painless injections, some resin fillings and some nice chat with a knowledgeable dentist and I was all done. My mouth was whole again, with no recuperation time required and all for $95 on my VISA. Heck yes. Best idea ever. The next day, I was munching crab curry chips like nothing had ever happened. A month later as it is now, I've had no problems and flossing and eating are perfectly normal.
For a first experience with medical tourism, I learned a great deal and thankfully all of it positive. I'm not recommending anything but simply relaying my own experience, as I found so few first-person stories online to reassure me before my appointment. From this, I've gathered (in my opinion) the three most important factors when preparing for a dental appointment abroad:
• Give yourself enough time for procedures. Don't expect to waltz into a clinic and get an appointment the next day; a good dentist will be booked and won't smile upon a patient demanding quick and immediate treatment because they've only got like, three days in town and want to sightsee.
• It's not a bad idea to ask for advice from locals, if you trust them enough. You don't necessarily have to take the advice, but odds are anything you hear by mouth will be more helpful than several hours of Google Searching.
• Check pricing beforehand and don't pick the cheapest place. I found that every clinic I stepped into to inquire had a printed price list. For example, root canals at The Dentist Clinic range from 4,800-8,800 THB per tooth, or $155-$284.50. Had I needed a crown, I was planning on a palladium-based crown at 10,000 THB per tooth ($323). That's a far cry from the four digits my US dentist would have charged for an entry level crown. And let's face it; it's comforting to know how much you're laying out before you lay down on the dentist chair and say "ahh."