Street Dentistry

Street dentist in China 01

Street dentist in China

A look at “street dentistry” in China who are veterans of their own trade. These skills are usually brought down by their family and are slowly becoming “extinct” as dentists with degrees and clinics slowly take over their businesses.

What is the state of “dentistry” in China you may ask? In Beijing, Shanghai, and other huge cities with a fairly large Western community, there are hospitals and dental clinics that “rival” anything in the West.

In a typical rural city in the Tibetan Highlands, however, the standards are significantly lower except at a major hospital or dentistry school.

Among the backstreet stores in China are some pretty scary-looking dental opportunities. It used to be that the dentist’s chair was set up right in front of a window, so every passerby could see what was going on.

I don’t see that as much around my neighborhood but I found this street side dentistry in one of Xining’s open-air markets.

Streetside dentistry in one of Xining's open-air markets
Street side dentistry in Xining

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” and a pack of flesh-eating “mandrills.”

Me, I’ll take “mandrills” every time, thank you very much. But there are the things one has to do from time to time like going to a dental clinic to get a cavity filled.

Street dentist in China 02

I was just glad my student 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 facsimile of a dental chair and a battered tin can for spitting out.

As it turned out the dentist’s office or “Stomatology Unit”, the Chinese “medical study of the mouth and its diseases” was only a small part of Hospital clinic.

I quickly discerned it must be 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 white dove from her tender, care giving hands.

Street dentist in China 04

The entrance sign set me straight, however:

“Hospital Clinic is named for its high technical medical programs develop in China and abroad. There are more than 300 excellent experts who have the distinguished responsibility and consummate technique including 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 student’s teeth. The dental chambers were easy to spot, located as they were next to the “Oral Disinfection Chamber” and conveniently just down the hall from the adjoining “Lithotripter 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 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 my student 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, raised voice exchange between the student and the receptionist/dental assistant over the fact that she was on time but would have to wait 30-minutes, we sat on chairs bolted to a wall until her name was called.

Street dentist in China 03

As it happens, my student’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 us, 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!” She 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.

Street dentist in China 05

Speaking of which, though it cost about US$50 for the filling – a steal by American standards – it seemed extraordinarily high to me by Chinese standards, but better than going to the guy with the chair and pliers in the vacant lot.

Street dentist (watch at your own risk)

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