I went to visit a friend yesterday whose face and neck had blown up like a balloon due to teeth problems. She said that as soon as the swelling had gone down, she would be booking in for root canal surgery (and she’s pregnant). The woeful tail reminded me of a nasty dental experience I had in Tanzania and I begged her to get a second opinion before getting back onto the dentist’s chair. She protested; ‘the dentist is so nice, trained in the US I think and only 500 shillings for a consultation!’ (£3.50). Alarm bells began to ring… I’m sure that this dentist is more than capable, but tried to convince her that a second opinion might well be worth while.
After my first baby I got some sort of infection in my wisdom tooth which was agony. I’ve never been very keen on dentists, and when you’re a long way from home it’s easy to conveniently forget about keeping up regular visits. It’s not unlike renewing vaccinations. It was only when one friend contracted Hepatitis A and another Typhoid recently that I looked at our old record cards and realised that some of our jabs should have been redone eight years ago. Booking in to receive a guaranteed achy arm for one week somehow always slips down the priority list, though at least having some injections helped me empathise with my poor pin cushion children a bit more.
Anyway, I digress. After a day or so of having an agonising mouth, finding it difficult to swallow and numerous salt mouthwashes, I asked around a bit and settled on a dentist in town named Dr Zaro (it seemed there was only a choice of two recommended dentists in Dar, most expats preferring to make dental appointments on their annual visits home). When I arrived a very glamorous eastern European lady in a short white dental assistant dress and upswept hair came to greet me; ‘how are you going to pay? How are you going to pay? Insurance? Bupa? Credit card? Cash?’ Then the dentist himself appeared in reception with an Einstein style hair do and another pretty assistant; ‘how are you paying today?’ I felt like a rabbit in the headlights. What I’d been hoping for was; ‘you poor dear, I can see you are in pain, come through here and I will help you’ – or words to that effect. Instead, things were beginning to resemble a Benny Hill type sketch and I started wondering how this crazy Eastern European had wound up in East Africa. Struck off the register in his mother country perhaps??
I got into the dentist’s chair and he concluded that I’d need to remove all my wisdom teeth and have six fillings to boot. He proceeded to fill two holes and prescribed some antibiotics for the infection on the proviso that I book in for more work when the course was finished. This came as a bit of a shock, as I’d never had a filling before in my life and thought it must be down to having had a baby when they say your teeth get weak or something (or is that some old wives tale?)
After 24 hours of taking the pills I was forced to take to my bed feeling one hundred times worse. I dragged myself to the doctor, who said that I must stop taking these pills immediately. She prescribed a more suitable drug and recommended a very nice Nordic dentist instead. Visiting him was an altogether more heartening experience and he said that there was no need for any fillings or to remove any wisdom teeth. GRRRrrr. Sadly he left the country soon after so I never got the chance to go back for a follow up.
It took me six years to summon up the courage to visit a dentist again after that. I know that in UK, with the rise of private dentists, Den-Plan and the difficulty of tracking down an NHS, you can fall into these traps anywhere. How I long for the days when the NHS dentist would say; ‘nothing much needs doing, lets not bother with braces, lets wait and see what happens’.
The worst danger we face here is to have ‘brown staining’ on our teeth, due to the excess amounts of fluoride added to the water. It’s a common problem here and something to bear in mind with the kids as they may well end up with very strong, slightly brown teeth, but what to do?