I am not one to publicize the things that scare me about traveling alone in Latin America, mainly because I don’t want to give my parents more things to worry about or discourage others from doing what I am doing. Since I got the whole getting robbed thing out of the way the first day of my trip, the remaining fears were mostly medical-related.
A mere 6 weeks after getting robbed, it happened.
I was in the Quito, Ecuador airport chewing on a piece of gum (the real stuff, not the rubbery crap you buy in Latin America), and I felt a crunch in the back of my mouth.
I had broken off part of a tooth.
How exactly this could happen just from chewing a piece of soft gum, I do not know. All I know is that I was terrified. I could feel the panic starting to take over.
Then I realized that was all I could feel. I did not feel any pain.
Panic attack averted.
I jumped on my next flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where I would have a wonderful reunion with friends for a wedding.
Periodically, I would think about my broken tooth. I would rub my tongue over the jagged edge, wondering if one day I would awaken in horrible pain.
Would it happen when I was in a small town in the mountains of El Salvador, where the only doctor is a 14-hour mule-ride away? Would it happen when I was on an island without electricity or running water?
Maybe I should get this looked at.
But what if it’s bad? What if they want to do a root canal? What if they don’t have novocaine? What if they want to put me under to extract the tooth?
I am all alone. Who will hold my hand? Who will take care of me while I am in pain and being whiny and demanding?
No. Better to ignore the problem.
I considered going to a dentist when I was in Antigua, Guatemala. I found out from a fellow traveler that she was actually getting dental work done during her stay in Antigua. She informed me that Antigua is actually known as a “dental tourism” location.
I thought about it. But I was still afraid.
Several months later, I settled in Buenos Aires for a while. Although there was still no pain, I was constantly reminded when my tongue brushed against the broken part of my tooth. I decided that this was probably the best place to get my tooth looked at. Although there was some debate in the comments of a recent post regarding whether or not Argentina is a third world country, I figured Buenos Aires was probably one of the best cities I would pass through in terms of medical and dental care. Plus, I knew expats that had regular dentists and could vouch for their ability to not inflict extreme pain.
So I did it.
I went to a friend’s dentist and got my tooth fixed. And you know what?
I got my tooth fixed at a very affordable price.
The dentist I saw is fluent in English (and studied in the US), which made me feel more comfortable that there would not be any Spanish medical terms I was unfamiliar with.
She told me the tooth was broken in two places, and I also had a cavity in that same tooth (I assume related to my lack of attention to the broken tooth for the past 10 months). Although the cavity was very large, she managed to save the tooth by drilling out the bad stuff, putting in a filling, and repairing the broken pieces.
The most surprising part about the visit?
She did NOTuse Novocaine or anything to numb the tooth or area surrounding it.
She simply explained to me that she would drill slowly, and if I felt pain to let her know. She assured me that the pain would not be a sudden, excruciating pain but rather an uncomfortable feeling.
I was nervous (read: terrified), but I decided to trust her.
She was right.
I felt a small amount of discomfort a few times as she drilled. I raised my hand. She stopped and came at it from a different angle. After maybe 10 minutes (meaning it was probably only 3 minutes), she was finished.
I never had any extreme pain.
She told me that the cavity was much bigger once she started drilling into it, but she was able to save me from having a root canal.
Thank God! And thank you, Awesome Dentist.
I only paid about US $35.
I have a feeling she didn’t use anything to numb the tooth because she knew it really would not be necessary, and it would just add to my bill.
So what did I learn from my experience?
- The things we fear may actually happen. If they do, the outcome may not be as bad as expected.
- Although things may be done in a simpler and lower-cost way, the end result may be the same or even better.
- If you have to get dental work done in Latin America, hope you are near Antigua, Guatemala or Buenos Aires, Argentina