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Dental China by Justin Mitchell

Whether it's for me or with someone else, a trip to a dentist's office never fails to exact a heavy primal toll from my already somewhat battered psyche. The smells, sounds, even the sight of a dental chair give me heebie jeebies that more rational beings might associate with being locked in an overflowing Port-O-Potty with a naked Dick Cheney and a pack of flesh-eating mandrills.

Me, I'll take Cheney and the mandrills every time, thankyouverymuch. But there are the things one does for love and one of them recently involved squiring my Chinese beloved to a Shenzhen dental clinic to get a cavity filled. She'd found the clinic on the Internet and, according to the hype it was Shenzhen’s finest.



A street dentist checks a client in
Sichuan Province.
Photo from


I was just glad she hadn't chosen one of the guys I've occasionally seen on a street corner or in a vacant lot gripping pliers, clad in a dirty lab coat and next to a portable crude facsimilie of a dental chair and a battered tin can for spitting out

As it turned out the dentist's office or "Stomatology Unit" (A term I had to look up later. It's the "medical study of the mouth and its diseases.") was only a small part of Shenzhen Bohai Hospital. I quickly discerned it was a quality outfit because of the enormous color photos outside that showed a woman dressed as a nurse kneeling reverently before a burning candle and a profile of her releasing a (presumably bird flu-free) white dove from her tender, caregiving hands. I wondered briefly if it was also a combination worship center/veterinary clinic.

The entrance sign set me straight, however:    

"Shenzhen Bohai Hospital is named by its high technical medical programs development in China and abroad. It is awarded as National People' s Trust Hospital and Shenzhen 1 Million Citizens Honest. There are more than 300 excellent experts who have the distinguished responsibility and consumate technique includes more than 30 famous national specialists, PhD's and past PhD's."

Just what the doctor ordered, I thought. A defrocked PhD working on my girlfriend's teeth..
The dental chambers were easy to spot, located as they were next to the "Oral Disintection (sic) Chamber" and conveniently just down the hall from the adjoining "Lithotriptor Dept." and "Rectal Disease Dept."

Like all other medical/dental outfits I've seen in mainland China, privacy was not a problem because there is none.

Three rooms with large windows allowed anyone who cared to to gape at the patients as the dentists did their work. I couldn't bear to look, however, and instead focused on the fascinating "Rectal Disease Dept." sign until C was finished checking in. The receptionist, based on the tray of bloody gauze and sharp instruments she held in one hand as the other hand  filled out forms, apparently also doubled as a dental assistant.

Following a brief sharp exchange between C and the receptionist/dental assistant over the fact that C was on time but would have to wait 30-minutes, we sat on chairs bolted to a wall until her name was called.

As it happens, C's Chinese name is similar to that of the late, reviled widow of Mao Zedong  (Jiang Qing, or as she was known in the West, “Madame Mao”) and that led to a another brief flare-up when the receptionist confused the two and more or less loudly announced over the public address system that the Gang of Four's mastermind had risen from the grave for dental care. The clinic, which had been buzzing with conversation fell absolutely silent at the mention of the name and more than a few heads turned to gape at C, - sort of as if someone in a German waiting room paged, "Eva Braun! Eva Braun!"

"I told her no one would be stupid enough to name their child that in these days!" C declared later after she'd had her work done minus anesthetic; a feat she shrugged off, but one that, as someone who begs for a medically induced coma just for a dental cleaning, I found on par with a manned moon mission or not getting ripped off by a car dealer. Speaking of which, though it cost about US$50 for the filling - a steal by American standards - it seemed extraordinarily high to us by Chinese standards, but better than going to the guy with the chair and pliers in the vacant lot..

"Have you had it done before? What did it cost?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I always made friends with a dentist before and it was free." She sighed a little. "I think I will have to find a new dentist friend who knows my name."

From: Original         Author: Justin Mitchell         Time: 3/5/2010 3:23:12 PM

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