SkyMall Monday: Cosmetic Teeth

People have long hated going to the dentist. It’s no fun being chastised for your poor flossing habits, having your teeth drilled and drooling on yourself the rest of the day while the Novocaine wears off. That’s why people so often put off trips to the dentist. Add in people losing their health benefits because of the recession and proper oral care has fallen by the wayside. These poor habits are not without consequences. Gums recede. Your breath smells like the monkey house at the zoo. Finally, your teeth begin to fall out. Even more frightening than the dentist is the oral surgeon. Dental restoration is a long and painful process. The alternative, however, is wedging candy corn into your mouth and telling people that you got a deal on some gold teeth. Well, now there’s an affordable and trustworthy solution for those of you who have neglected your mouths. SkyMall, the people who brought us such useful health care products as the NECKpro Traction Device, Noseaid and the Night Sweat Alarm, comes the next big thing in the growing field of home dentistry. SkyMall Monday is excited to share SkyMall’s latest offering: Cosmetic Teeth.We’d all love the opportunity to have a movie star smile. However, cosmetic surgery is out of reach for most of us working stiffs. Thankfully, this DIY solution is perfect for people who love to do things with their own two hands. A great smile breeds confidence and can lead to job offers, requests for dates and the ability to chew solid foods. All the more reason to roll up your sleeves and shove your hands in your mouth for a little self improvement.

Think that dental procedures are best left to licensed professionals? Believe that you deserve more nitrous oxide? Well, while you tgo to your fancy shmancy dentist, everybody else will read the product description:

Stop worrying about what people will think of your teeth. Smile at pretty girls again…Once fitted (which can be done, by yourself, at home) they snap onto your upper teeth for a secure fit, yet remove easily at your discretion. Slip them on for job interviews, pictures, or whenever you need a boost of confidence. No adhesives are used, just your own natural bite.

No more wasting your time smiling at just the ugly girls! Rather than leaving your new teeth in your mouth all the time and running the risk of getting bored with them, you can slip them on only when you need that confidence boost while eating corn on the cob. And since your natural bite holds them in place, you’ll appear stoic and mysterious when you keep your mouth closed during conversations.

Shockingly, SkyMall does not permit returns if you are dissatisfied with this product, so make sure you really want these $40 fake teeth before ordering them from an in-flight catalog. Though I highly doubt that you’ll regret this purchase.

Take a bite out of your low self-esteem with these Cosmetic Teeth!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

My Bloody Romania: First stab at medical tourism

Being a homeless, shameless, godless freelance travel writer isn’t all glamour, Nike endorsement deals and Friday nights at the Viper Room canoodling with Natalie Portman. There are innumerable indignities associated with this lifestyle, including the startling, nay shocking, confession I am about to make: I have not seen a dentist in over four years.

Now rest assured that during this time I have been brushing and flossing with a ferocity only known to those who have no health insurance and little disposable income, who occasionally suffer the odd nightmare where his teeth crumble into shards while biting into an apple and Natalie Portman abruptly decides that she wants to see other people.

Even so, after four years, punctuated with occasional mysterious aches and an increased sensitivity to ice, I felt compelled to finally see a dentist. Romania may not be the first destination one thinks of when considering medical tourism (or even the 50th) and indeed, generally speaking, one shouldn’t. Pretty much all of the competent doctors leave here at the first opportunity for better pay and a lifestyle where a trip to the post office to pick up a package isn’t a half day ordeal. Even President B??sescu couldn’t find a doctor he trusted to repair a herniated disc last year, choosing to get the work done in Vienna. But dentists are another story. Since it’s not nearly as easy for them to find work abroad, even the Jedi Knights of Romanian dentistry are more or less stuck here (though EU membership may change all that).

So with a solid recommendation from friends, I brushed and flossed one last time and walk across town to my appointment.

If one chooses to fixate on aesthetics, they might become a tad nervous upon arrival at their Romanian dentist’s office. The ‘reception area’ did not have the soothing 50 gallon aquarium or three months of People magazine or even lights (there was a ceiling light, but it was turned off – natural light from the windows was sufficient as long as one wasn’t trying to read a book or scrutinize their bill). It was simply a tiny, bare storefront space, with two tired plants, four chairs and reading material that consisted of mail catalogues from the local superstore. There was no reception desk and, indeed, no receptionist. Just a frosted door from where the dentist herself occasionally emerged to call in the next patient.

The tiny room was filled with people, some walk-ins cupping their jaws and others with flimsy ‘appointments’ that were more wishful than abiding – I was invited in 45 minutes after my scheduled time. Inside, the office wasn’t much better. Again, no lights apart from the overhead lamp she used to illuminate my mouth. The walls were bare, the only decoration being two tiny, but encouraging pictures of the Resurrection of Jesus clipped to the x-ray light-board.

After truncated pleasantries (which she unexpectedly did in English), she went to work with the iron hook, gouging at my hard-to-reach places. After a quick spit, she fired up the tooth polisher for some nippy work ‘only where it was necessary’. Though her spoken chair-side-manner wasn’t winning any Florence Nightingale awards, she, like her busty American counterparts, was not shy about cradling my head, squished deep into her left breast. Better than any anesthetic.

Fourteen minutes was all she needed. Never cracking her deadpan disposition, she informed that I have no cavities [punches air] and that it would take about an hour for the underwire mark in my cheek to fade.

Total cost for cursory check-up and hasty teeth cleaning: RON30 (US$12.36). If one is less valiantly hygienic than I am, one might like to know that getting a tooth pulled will run an additional RON25 (US$10.30) and getting a tooth filled should be about the same. I wonder if dental care prices in America would be similar if they cut out the aquarium, People magazine, the team of receptionists and superfluous mood lighting?

So, my fellow budget travelers and destitute freelance writers, probably best to save your LASIK surgery for Thailand, but in the meantime you can get have a professional attend to minor-to-moderate dental issues in Romania with the same confidence you would at home. Like anywhere in the world, dentists’ offices (‘stomatologie‘) are on virtually every block, so just shop around until you see a door you like, or if possible, get a local to give you a referral. Be sure to crack a joke while you’re at it and take discreet note of their smile.

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet’s Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for more amateur medical solutions and reminiscing about his innumerable relationships with movie stars, even if they all deny ever having known him, while deep down still longing for his red hot smokin’ body, aren’t you Natalie?

A Canadian in Beijing: Big Toothy Grin at the Dental Hospital

There’s so much to write about and so little time left. I’m here for only one more week and then I can hardly believe that I’m leaving. Canada again? It’s going to be so strange not to be here, a place where I feel so at home. I have a rhythm here that feels musical in my step. I will so miss this place. And yet, my Canadian senses are also drawing me home the way fresh baked bread on the breeze will draw someone into a warm kitchen on a summer’s day. If only I could duplicate myself to be in both places at once!

In the midst of this delicious rhythm, I’ve really stopped being a tourist in so many ways. I have found friends and a vibrant community and my adventures are centred around their lives and their worlds. Not to say they haven’t been given insight into mine, but they have invited me in to theirs and shown me so many different aspects of Beijing. In many cases, I have seen parts of this city that I would never have seen had I just been looking through a guide book for possible adventures.

Take yesterday, for example, when I toured Beijing’s preeminent dental hospital: “Peking University Stomatological Hospital.”

One of my friends is a dentist studying to be a dental surgeon. He invited me to his hospital and I must say that it was an experience that left an impression. Not only did I constantly want to brush my teeth while I was there, but I felt shy about smiling for fear that everyone was looking at my teeth!

Now, on a practical level, what struck me most was the fact that the hospital looked like a hospital from the 1970’s. Much of the equipment was up-to-date and modern, but the décor and the layout reminded me of the hospitals of my youth. Not to mention the fact that the walls were often in disrepair with peeling paint or cracked plaster and the pipes were exposed and rusting.

Not unlike the buildings at the school or my dorm, though. Perhaps I should just chalk it up to different interior design standards here in China versus Canada? And, after all, it’s not really about look and much more about function, right? In North America, we are taught that if a place looks shabby then the quality of the service must also be shabby. I think that assumption is far from true here. Standards could very well be high (if not higher than home), even if the walls need painting.

My friend took me up floor after floor of identical floor plan: the central area was a waiting room with hard-backed chairs all attached to one another like students chairs in a university lecture hall. Each floor had a reception desk and then dental rooms branching off on all sides. Each dental room held several dental chairs that weren’t separated from one another with walls or dividers. I’m not sure what dental hospitals look like in North America, but I wondered if perhaps privacy is not as important here or if this is standard for a dental hospital versus a private clinic. (Anyone know?)

In the stairwell, when we rounded the stairs to the fifth floor, he pointed to the entrance and said that we couldn’t go in there. He continued to climb the stairs to the sixth floor and I paused at the fifth and asked “why?” He stopped and turned around and in a very matter-of-fact tone explained that this was the floor where the government officials are treated. “So?” I asked, naively, and he said that no one was allowed to go onto this floor except a select group of doctors and surgeons. He further explained that there is actually a full hospital that is just for government officials elsewhere in the city. It, too, is off limits to the regular Beijing denizen or visitor.

Well then.

These are the moments when I recall that I’m in a Communist country.

Another interesting point is that the orthodontic floor was the most modern and clean. Of course, my friend explained, this is because it’s the most expensive of all the services. (So, money will buy paint and take rust off pipes, I suppose!?) I also liked the kid’s floor. The little chairs were cute and they tried to decorate it with a bit more colour for the little ones. And, most amusing to me of all was the educational rooms with the fake heads with removable jaws for learning how to work on teeth. Of course these are needed, but I’ve never seen such a thing before and the image of all these slack-jawed dummies made me laugh.

After the tour, we came back to the main floor and into the central lobby. Here were glassed-in kiosks that looked much like ticket wickets at a train station. The patients line up in front of these windows to be registered at the hospital, though it is not an emergency reception room. My friend also pointed out the pharmacy window, which was also a kiosk. The patient takes their prescription slip to this window and presents it to the attendant and the attendant fetches your prescription. Almost like a drive-thru window, I thought, and it was strange to hear my friend define it as a pharmacy. In Canada, pharmacies look a lot different!

Suddenly there was a grand commotion. They were blocking off a section of the outer sidewalk and people were being directed to move their bicycles immediately as the doors were to be locked to one of the exits and any bicycles would be trapped outside. At least, this is what I gathered. There was also something about not being able to access a neighbouring building through those entrances/exits, which seem to inspire a lot of running back and forth before the locks were engaged.

Apparently they are working on the building next door and there was a risk of falling debris. They were blocking it off so that no one would get hurt, but to block off the area they only used flimsy tarps that flapped in the wind, one at either end of the section of sidewalk – easy to walk under and/or around. In North America, I could already imagine people completely disregarding these tarps and taking the risk. Here in China, rules are rules.

The urgency of this closure was palpable. In fact, it seemed as through there was some sort of panic to gather items from one building to the next as though there would be no way to get between the buildings afterwards, which I soon discovered was untrue. The blocked walkway just forced a person to go around. Still, it seemed like the end of the world was coming for those few moments and I just watched with amusement and curiosity.

In my curiosity, I walked outside and photographed the area, much to the horror of one of the hospital workers who warned me that I could still get hurt even while on the “safe” sides of the barricade. (By the way, I didn’t see a single particle of dust fall from the adjacent building while I was out there!) I am grateful I went outside, though, because I discovered this building behind the hospital (I have no idea if it’s part of the hospital or not) that is covered in vines. It looked like a living and breathing creature and I had to photograph it.

When I went back inside, the drama had subsided and I accompanied my friend to a large auditorium where I watched groups of students gather on the stage and perform various songs and poems or sketches for each other. There were perhaps five hundred students and each group was of approximately ten students. They filed on and off the stage with embarrassed giggles and cajoling from their friends in the audience. The most popular performance was karaoke in style with backing music being provided by a laptop hooked up to an overhead projector and piped through auditorium speakers. In fact, many of the songs sung were English songs and any poems that were recited were also in English. That did not make them very clear, however, and it was funny for me to say that I “ting bu dong” (don’t understand) something when it’s supposed to be in my own language!

Two hours later, the performances were winding up and I had had enough of “people watching.” It really felt like a high school variety night (which was the only thing I could relate it to), only this group of students weren’t my fellow students and this wasn’t my school! I felt good to have supported my friend, but I was ready to go. Such an event was definitely culturally specific to China. I can’t imagine a bunch of university and masters students in Canada engaging in this kind of activity, but I have to add, to their credit, that it was great to see these students having so much fun.

I left via the back entrance (due to the blocked doorways) and I thanked my friend for such a unique experience. How often does a person get to tour a dental hospital in Beijing and then watch fifty amateur performances in two hours? I’d say it would go in the once-in-a-lifetime category!

I went home and brushed my teeth right away.