Dental care while traveling

It had been about 6 months since I’d had my teeth cleaned. Given how much I abuse my teeth, I figured it was about time to give them a little love. I also figured it would be a good chance to show Georgia is not the third-world country many people think it is.

Challenge number 1: finding a dentist in Tbilisi. This would have been far easier in Kutaisi as I saw dental offices everywhere while wandering around the town. But I’m in the capital now so I turned to what is almost always my first option: Google Maps. It turns out, that was not a good idea. Many of the places Google thought there was a dental office had no such thing at that location. So I reverted to wandering and looking for tooth symbols on signs. After a while, I found one…that was (of course) unknown to Google.

Whatever, I walked in searching for a reception desk. There was just a lobby. No big deal; I just sat down, and waited for someone to wander out. The woman that eventually came out looked confused, and asked me something in Georgian (I’m assuming, ‘what are you doing here’). When I asked if she spoke English, she wandered off and found a co-worker which I’m assuming is the most fluent person in their office. I asked if they cleaned teeth, and she responded they did but there wasn’t time that day. So I asked if I could schedule an appointment. She walked in back, and their ‘scheduling person’ (for lack of a better description) came out with a calendar. She told me to return the next day at 1030. Sweet!

The next morning, I woke up at a decent time (for a change). There were other travelers eating breakfast, and we started conversing. When we’d finished, I discovered I should have payed more attention to the time; I was going to be late. I got ready as quickly as I could and walked even faster than normal to try being close to on time. I ended up arriving 2 minutes late. But it didn’t matter as it appeared I was simply waiting for an opening in their schedule.

One of the employees came out, and gave me some plastic ‘booties’ to cover my shoes. Then, I waited for an hour. I didn’t care since I was in no particular rush so I chilled and watched soap operas in Hindi (I think) dubbed in Georgian. I didn’t understand a single word, but it held my attention. Finally, someone came out, pointed at me, and gestured for me to follow her back.

I was greeted by a couple chairs that looked just like the ones back in the US with all the same equipment. The first time the dentist wanted me to spit, she pointed at the drainage contraption next to the chair and said a word. Every time after that, she repeated the word. I don’t remember what it was, but every time she said anything, I just spit. It seemed logical to me….

When we were done, she wrote something on a notepad in Georgian, and handed me the sheet. Then it took her about 5 minutes of searching online to figure out how to translate something. When she showed me the phone she’d been searching on, it said ‘buy this at a pharmacy’. No prescription; just whatever it was written on a sheet of paper. She also indicated (through gestures) that I should swish whatever it was 2 times a day for 10 days.

Then it was time for the bill: 40 lari! That’s a little over $15! In the States, it would cost at least 10 times that much for exactly the same treatment (well ok, so there wouldn’t be a language barrier, but I’ll take that any day for that price). Even many co-pays (where insurance covers most of the bill) are more expensive than that.

Then it was time for the next challenge: finding a pharmacy. That was much easier. I walked up to a counter, and handed the pharmacist the paper. She asked me something in Georgian.

Me: “I’m sorry.”

Pharmacist: “For what?”

Me: “Teeth”

She went back, got a bottle, and gave me the price: 17.50 lari (less than $10). I later discovered it was some sort of anti-bacterial mouth wash.

So if anyone from the US (or any country that has expensive health care) needs their teeth cleaned, I recommend just waiting until your next vacation. The quality is just as good, and you could save a lot of money. I know if I need anything medically, I’m going to check wherever in the world I happen to be before hopping a flight ‘home’.

I don’t know how it is in other places, but there’s some seriously strong nationalism going on in the US. A lot of my friends would say the US is ‘number 1’ in everything; the best country in the world. When I’d ask them if they’d been anywhere else to compare, they would almost always respond they hadn’t. So how did they know? This experience has taught me that health care in the US (at least when it comes to dentistry) is not the best. It’s probably not even in the top 10.

I hope this has encouraged you to validate your preconceived notions. Go explore, and find out if what you were told from those famous people on TV is actually the case. I know from my own experiences that almost nothing the propaganda machines (media) in the US told me is actually true. It seems the old saying is true: travel will destroy any prejudices you have.

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