Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I LOVE my Dentist

At least three or four times a month I get email queries from people asking what I think about living and retiring in the Philippines. After I tell them that I love it here, I usually go into my personal list of pros and cons. Truthfully, when I add them up, there are MANY more cons than there are pros; but I always say that even so, those few pros FAR outweigh the abundant cons.

Just today, another “pro” occurred to me while I lay back in my dentist’s chair with my mouth wide-open. I was thinking, ‘if I HAVE to go to the dentist, this is THE way to do it.’ You see, BOTH my dentist and the assistant are attractive Filipinas, and EVEN when my teeth are being drilled, probed or scraped, its okay; because no matter what, I have those two gorgeous sets of delightful brown eyes to gaze up into. Call me crazy, but that’s all I need to keep me happy and to make it AAAALL better.

Aside from the “wonderful scenery” available in my particular dentist’s office, there is another even more important benefit—the low cost of treatment. I was reminded of exactly that today when I ran into a fellow Michigander, a cop from Detroit, and we got to talking about his dental plan. It turns out that even though I don’t have a dental plan at all over here, and pay as I go, I still pay a heck of a lot less than he does. Although, he was thrilled to tell me that he gets TWO free cleanings every year.

Today, I had a crown adjusted along with two teeth requiring drilling and fillings. I think I made my Detroit friend a little jealous when I told him that ALL that work cost me LESS than $16. I was there today because last week, my dentist—not a dental hygienist mind you—cleaned my teeth, and while doing so, discovered the two dental caries. She charged me a whole $9 for the cleaning. It almost doesn’t seem plausible, unless you live here that is.

Late last year one of my more important “grinders” began to ache off and on, and once it REALLY started to throb I asked around for a good dentist. A fellow retiree recommended Doctor Malijan over in Balibago next door to the RUMPA restaurant, and she’s been my dentist ever since. One of my larger molars, one with four separate roots, had some internal decay and needed a root canal. Over the course of four or five visits, she performed the procedure and capped it all off by installing a new crown. The total cost—just over $180. You can’t beat it!

There a LOT of dentists in this country, and most Filipinos pay a whole bunch less than I do even for their dental work. My dentist caters mostly to us foreigners and we don’t mind paying her a little more. She does exceptional work and I am rarely uncomfortable while she works on me.

Many visitors to the Philippines think that since it is a third-world country that services like dentistry would logically be out-of-date, but I haven’t found that to be true at all. The dentists AND the doctors here are very professional and well trained. There ARE a few problems, but a proactive person can easily stay ahead of them by being aware of them. For instance, one of my primary concerns is the lack of good pharmacology control. It seems that many doctors just aren’t that careful about ensuring that a patient’s multiple medications are NOT in conflict.

A final observation on the state of typical Filipino dental care is the national propensity to simply pull teeth and replace them with dentures. My own wife asked me why I went to all the trouble to have a root canal, when I could just have the offending tooth pulled and replaced with a denture. You will rarely find a local who has ever had tooth decay drilled out and replaced with a filling. I remember when my wife’s 8-year old niece looked into my mouth and saw my myriad fillings; she was horrified, believing that all the dark fillings had to be painful rotten spots. With a grimace, she backed away, pointing at my teeth declaring, “Bulok!” which means rotten.

Usually, by the time the average Filipino goes to a dentist it is to have a pain-wracked tooth extracted, because the decay has progressed way too far to do anything else. In the U.S. we go to great lengths to save teeth –to repair them – but not here. I’ve seen dazzlingly pretty teenage girls with a half-dozen missing front teeth. A good thing is that the typical Filipino dentist is very good at making replacements, and it’s cheap. A nice looking set of upper front dentures can be had for less than a hundred bucks.

Of course, I’ve also noticed that many people here have beautiful pearly white, straight and perfect choppers. Nonetheless, for those unfortunates who don't, they live in the perfect place to get new ones made that are – ONLY in the Philippines.


Amadeo said...

Good job on this, Phil.

Advertising a little-known service (outside the PI) that should really benefit a lot of people.

And I myself can render "expert" testimony, having undergone a lot more intensive and extensive work on my teeth and gums.

And as you mentioned, in very appealing surroundings for very affordable costs.

Let me add another. And at one's greatest convenience.

Let me explain.

I needed very extensive work that needed countless visits, like 20 visits. Which were all done and scheduled in a month.

Imagine how this would have worked out in terms of scheduling, even here in the US. I imagine it would have required at least 6 months to complete, if I were lucky.

But my friendly and long-time lady dentist had it all figured out- she would schedule me between appointments of other patients, or give me a friendly call immediately when one patient fails to keep an appointment. But she definitely was not averse to doing more work for more people.

Now, I need to go back to her to have repaired a tooth chipped from a bad fall from jogging.

And technology-wise? I got fitted with dentures using material that just got developed - one that adjusts its shape and flexibility to body temperature (around one's mouth) so that they always fit tight and snug. Imagine bubble gum that's soft when it is being chewed, and gets hard and brittle when thrown out. Forgot the name of the material, though.

The new thing now being developed in the PI is called Medical Tourism - building medical/dental facilities with foreigners as the main thrust.

I have anticipated its coming by inviting my son-in-law's elerly mom to avail of the services, with the caveat that initially she could be housed in our house there and be cared for by caregivers that are plentiful and easy to hire.

PhilippinesPhil said...

The Philippines is behind the curve on "medical tourism," and with me living here I wish it wasn't. The Indians and Thais are waaaay out front on that. A lot of my buds take hops over to Thailand to get tests and procedures done because they are cheaper and done better than here. The Philippine Gov't, as usual, is the culprit. The laws, corruption and business environment here keeps just about every facet of all types of market venturism stymied and lagging. If only they'd put ME in charge! (grin!)

Ed said...

This is a subject that I knew nothing of until my last trip there. It was then that I realized that all these young people had dentures instead of amazingly good teeth. Finding that out really shocked me. But you are right. Because the cost is high to Filipinon standards, they often wait until there is little to do but yank the sucker.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Another problem here is that although people are good at brushing, many if not most of them do not floss. My wife runs into people all the time with putrid breath because of this. They just don't realize how important it is to get that floss in there to get the bits of grindage out. The bacteria feeding on it transfers over to the teeth and gums and next thing you know, its time for another tooth to come out.

Amadeo said...

The different observations noted are simply examples of the local culture on dental health in the Philippines.

But I am observing a lot of changes as I continue my regular visits to the place.

While during our time maintaining a regular dentist and having regular visits were not common, I now observe in the children of my relatives that such is not the case anymore. Thus, I now see them having regular visits and for example, having braces which were unheard of during our time.

And flossing was again unheard of during our time. The ubiquitous toothpick was the substitute, thus a meal was always capped with a little "serving" of the toothpick shaker.

And the local culture has also changed in other areas. Root canal procedures are now common even in the provinces. Saving rather than extracting are now options that the dentist presents before the patient.

Phil, the places outside Metro Manila may move ahead in the work of medical tourism. Cebu already has concrete plans, or may already have one. And it has existing international airport facilities. And the impetus will be more on the private sector, rather than the government. Though the latter is still very essential in laying the necessary infrastructures

PhilippinesPhil said...

There's no doubt that dental hygiene is moving ahead here, although tooth extractions are still VERY popular too. I think many times folks here go for the extractions because they WANT the perfect look that dentures give them vs their perhaps yellowed not-so-ideallic originals.

When it comes to medical tourism the Philippines is indeed trying to follow in the successful footsteps of Thailand, but it sputters by comparison. Believe me, I wish the PHilippines WAS the Tiger of Asia, which it SHOULD be, but it IS always behind the curve economically. The bureaucracy alone is stifling, not to mention all the other issues that keep this wonderful nation cash starved and under-employed.

Amadeo said...

And let me add, extractions are popular because they are also the cheapest and easiest procedures to have, compared to root canal, fillings or what have you.

Thus, economics plays an important part even in dental health.

PhilippinesPhil said...


Anonymous said...

That's also true here in Canada. Dentists will try their best to save your teeth before trying to replace them with dentures. And you're right. Dentist fees here are quite high. I'm lucky to have a good dental insurance. We go to the dentist regularly, twice a year, covered mostly 100% by my insurance.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Ahhh, but you're Canadian... you guys have free eveything up there, right? Is your dental plan a government one, or part of your work coverage?

Anonymous said...

hi Phil! engaging article:-) i'm a Filipina and i guess i may have to agree with you, dental hygiene has some distance to go. growing up in manila, well, you save money where you can and dental expenses, my mom made sure to keep at a minimum. so believe it or not, she was my 'dentist' for most of my formative years.. or should we say my formative teeth. for example, one of her 'past-time' was to yank my about-to-fall-off tooth while sleeping! (i know, it's quite phobia-forming!) Her only tool: a piece of thread. that's it. For awhile, I could just look at my mother in bewilderment for subjecting me to this blitzkrieg attacks. However, i started to feel good when my teeth eventually took a nice straight formation. i recall i even got voted as 'ms close up' when i was grade 5 (hehe). thank goodness, my mother appreciated having real choppers (i think she has a couple of dentures so she knows the disadvantage of having such).

honestly, i think my mother is more the exception rather than the rule.:-) better info dissemination about dental care should make more Filipinos appreciate the beauty of real teeth.:-)

Unknown said...

It is true that dental clinics in the Philippines is quite affordable than in your country. It is actually half of the price we pay than yours. Then, I suggest if you have problem with your teeth, The best Dentist Implants in the Philippines is the Dental World Manila where you can find at St. Luke's Medical Center, SM Mall of Asia and Glorieta Makati. You don't need to have a doubt regarding their dentist. This clinic is well-known in the Philippines and we all have the best dentist and doctors. Make sure to check them out as soon as possible.

Sandra Parker said...

Hi! If you want to have some dental treatments. I do recommend Estetico Manila. You can find them at Makati or visit the website. Their dentist is well-trusted.