Der Deutsch Zahnarzt (aka - my first trip to the German dentist)

December 01, 2011

No, I'm not impersonating Elvis - 
that's just the numb novocaine lip (hot, right?)

When the aching around my wisdom tooth started earlier this week, I was already working on putting off my inevitable first trip to a German dentist. I don't exactly know when my fear of dentists began, but I'm guessing it manifested in my youth filled with dentist-pulled teeth (mine were late to come in) and five-and-a-half years of mouth torture, otherwise known as braces. Oh yeah, and a major oral surgery. So needless to say, my pain threshold for a lifetime has been reached where my teeth are concerned. 

Not wanting my pain - or the problem causing the pain - to get any worse, I bit the bullet and called the dentist my friend recommended. After stumbling my way through what should have been an embarrassingly beginner conversation in German, I had myself an appointment for the same afternoon. I enlisted my husband's help in getting there, since after a night filled with horrific mental images probably much more akin to a slasher film than the workings of a legitimate dental professional, I was terrified that, depending on the extent of my procedure, I might not make it home on my own. Note: I'm defending this view, as it's happened before. I had a simple dermatological procedure earlier this year requiring all of two stitches and passed out to the extent that the doctor gave me the candy bar from his lunch and insisted I stay laying down until someone came for me. Yeah, I'm a bit of a baby.

Being a weak-willed, procedure-adverse person, I am pushed even more to my limits by Germans' bedside manner - in that, they notoriously don't have one. I swear the aforementioned dermatologist looked more uncomfortable by my bout of fainting than a young man on a date chaperoned by the girl's father. I could see that he just didn't know what to do (seen the German doctor in Funny People? - that's pretty much right on). Going into an experience where one wants a little coddling is usually a no-win situation over here, but I was about to be proven wrong. 

After more stumbling through the paperwork and apologizing for not understanding all of the questions, the receptionist, who is also the dentist's wife and perhaps the sweetest German woman I have ever met, brought me in to the dentist get started. What I'd like to think was a valiant effort in German on my part was quickly overrun by my nervousness (and frankly, lack of vocabulary) and he thankfully realized English would probably provide better clarification so he could do his job. His wife, having the most amazing bedside manner of any medical professional I've ever experienced in my whole life, saw my nervousness and slipped a smooth, wooden heart into my hand for me to squeeze and then gently cradled my face while he began his examination. I was so caught off guard by the tenderness of the the gesture, I nearly teared up. She had blown every preconceived notion - and albeit limited personal experience - with German medical practitioners out of the water!

A quick x-ray and a five minute wait while my husband tried to distract me with a silly iPhone game told us that while my wisdom tooth was looking good (phew!), my mostly-filling tooth beside it had very little protection between the filling and nerve (ouch). He would replace it, this time including a kind of barrier for my poor, overworked nerve. I had a feeling that German efficiency would prevail and I was correct - I was there, so it was happening now (eeek!). Frau Dentist continued to keep an eye out for me and reminded her husband to tell me about the signal if I needed to take a break (she didn't really speak any English). Again - so sweet.

With Germans not being the drug-addled society we Americans are (I can't even get rid of a headache with anything over the counter here, my tolerance is apparently so high), I was further terrified that whatever they had in mind to protect this sensitive nerve throughout the procedure would be undoubtedly too weak. It wasn't until after he put something on my gums and I started to feel the tingle that I even realized I'd been numbed. Like a naive child, I even had to ask if he'd just given me a shot, because I didn't feel a thing (first. time. ever.). He affirmed and kind of chuckled, confused, as if to say "of course you didn't feel a thing, you silly girl, this is my job."

So while the procedure of having a major filling drilled out and then refilled (at one point he started in with something that made me feel like he was sandblasting my tooth and rattling my brain) was certainly no day at the beach, it was entirely pain-free and borderline pleasant, especially upon discovering my two new favorite dental professionals in the world. I paid my €10 co-pay for the quarter but seeing as I requested the better-looking composite fillings (as opposed to the standard, covered-by-state-insurance silver amalgam ones), I expect I'll get a decently sizable bill in the coming weeks. I also have a check-up in a couple weeks, as the dentist wants to see how the pain in that tooth is progressing. I've never once had a dentist care about following up with my pain on something as 'routine' as a filling. Perhaps these Germans aren't such cold, suck-it-up, tough-it-out people after all.

It's funny how when things like this come up in expat life, one really starts to realize how much these interactions are taken for granted wherever you come from - and how much one's ideas about their new culture are challenged. After starting this post, I felt a little silly that I was dedicating such an extensive recounting of something as mundane as a trip to the dentist. But as I've learned, things that might be the norm in one's life in the states, may be entirely different over here. Throw in a language barrier and healthy terror of the dentist, and a mundane experience gets a whole lot more complicated.

After all that, I will say that if and when I do have a problem with my wisdom teeth, I'm so glad I've got my German dentist and his wife to take care of me! Also on the plus side, my new dentist reaffirmed what I've heard from all my previous dentists - I do an excellent job of cleaning my teeth (he even made sure to tell me "this is a big compliment"). Now if only that meant they could stop all the damn drilling...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische