Barefoot Dentistry: Not As Horrifying As it Sounds

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The sign outside the second-floor clinic instructs all visitors to remove their shoes before entering, and the staircase landing is littered with sandals. OK, apparently this is a thing. I briefly consider turning around and leaving, but I’m bolstered by the fact that I’m wearing my lucky Harry Potter underwear. Also, I just saw my first two sacred cows, which seems like a good omen. I’m about to have dental work in India, and I’m starting to think this was possibly a Very Bad Idea™.

I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They're everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I'm not posting pictures so stop asking.
I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They’re everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I’m not posting pictures so stop asking.

I feel better as soon as I step inside the clinic. Everything is clean and modern and sterile. I’m handed an iPad on which to check in. The receptionist has perfect hair and looks like he just stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, except he’s also barefoot.

As soon as I finish signing in and taking an extremely unflattering picture of myself with the office tablet, J. Crew leads me up another flight of stairs to the exam room, which is similarly spotless but full of Buddha statues and a small radio blaring Indian pop music.

Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.
Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.

Also, is it a bad sign when your dentist has the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies on his office bookshelf? Asking for a friend.

Dr. Narayan cuts right to the chase, asking me what’s going on. I go into show and tell mode, and he only interrupts to ask a few questions. He can tell right away that I’ve been putting this off for some time, and that there was trauma to the tooth in question. He smirks when I tell him the story of being head-butted in the face by a rambunctious dog while drinking a beer.

“Well,” he says pushing back from his desk, “let’s have a look.” I pad along barefoot behind him into the treatment room. This is probably my last chance to bolt and I’m totally missing it.

The room is as bright and sterile as any Western dentist office, and he uses all the usual tools for the exam, but there is no forgetting where I am. He explains every step of what’s needed in distinctly Indian terms. The root of the tooth is like a sleeping tiger. Bacteria rise up like warriors. Etc. I try to close my eyes during the exam but he gently admonishes me to keep them open. “I know you are scared. Watching what goes on will remove the fear.”

Here's a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.
Here’s a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.

It only takes a few minutes for Dr. Narayan to decide I need a root canal and we should begin immediately. OK, hold up, I only psyched myself up for an exam. I was not prepared for this at all. “You’re already here,” he says, reading my mind again. “Best just to get it over with.” He’s right, of course, but I must not look entirely convinced. “I promise it won’t hurt a bit, and you won’t even need any anesthesia.” It’s not polite to call your doctor a big fat liar, so I tell him to go ahead.

As it turns out, he wasn’t a big fat liar at all. I would hereby like to insist that every dentist I’ve ever seen to go to India and take a few lessons from this guy. Especially Dr. Kmon, who was a really big jerk to me when I was six.

Fifteen minutes later, having experienced zero pain whatsoever, I was on my way. Who would have guessed that one Indian doctor could cure a decades old fear of the dentist’s chair?

I ended up going back for three additional visits for a follow-up, a temporary crown, and a permanent crown. My entire cost for four office visits, a root canal, and a porcelain crown was $230. I did a little bit of cost comparison with US averages, and it appears that a root canal on a front tooth can cost in the neighborhood of $900. If you need a crown, expect that to be over $1000. You might have insurance that minimizes your out of pocket cost, but if not, that’s a huge expense. I suddenly understand why so many of my American friends have chosen to have their dental work done overseas. For the cost of one root canal and crown in the US, you can fly to the dental tourism spot of your choice, stay in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks, enjoy a lovely vacation, and get some top quality dental work done while you’re there.

Worried about getting dental work overseas? I was, too (especially the whole barefoot thing, but I got over it) but I did a ton of research and got personal recommendations from other travelers, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. The dentist I chose came highly recommended with over 18 years of experience and training in both India, Europe, and North America, and has trained dentists all over the world. I hope I don’t get too much hate mail from American dentists, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again and now I completely understand why so many people have chosen to travel for their medical and dental procedures instead of paying outrageous prices at home.

Have you ever traveled for a medical or dental procedure? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

20 thoughts on “Barefoot Dentistry: Not As Horrifying As it Sounds”

  1. This is a funny experience! Were you travelling around India at the time or did you go specially to see the dentist? That makes a lot of sense actually and it sounds like the experience was great! I’ve visited some doctors overseas in both NZ and France. I had an interesting experience in France because the doctor had a massive book that must’ve weighed about 50 pounds with the English-French translations of every ingredient that is in every medication! It took ages to get a simple refill for my inhaler, but it was funny 🙂

    1. I was on my way to Sri Lanka and decided to detour to India specifically for the dental work as I had read so many accounts of people traveling there to have work done. Your France story made me laugh! I always say if I come away with a funny story, it was worth it…

  2. Interesting experience ! I would probably think twice going to a dentist in India too. But it doesn’t seem to be too bad from your experience. The clinic seems to be well-maintained as well, judging from the Buddha statue LOL.

  3. Oh my goodness! I can’t imagine. I don’t like the dentist here at home, I can’t imagine having to have work like that done on the road. You are brave!

    1. I don’t know if you can rightfully call someone brave who relies on a pair of lucky underwear to get her through a dentist appointment! But in all seriousness, it was a much better and gentler experience than any dentist I’ve visited in the US.

  4. I had to laugh at the barefoot part. That is definitely Asia for you! I feel like I end up removing my shoes in the most unusual of circumstances, too. 🙂 My parents lived in India for a few years and I was always amazed at how cheap their healthcare, medicines, etc were compared to what we were paying in the States. Definitely a way better deal there!

    1. A way better deal and, for me, a much better experience than any of my past dentists in the US. I’ve already convinced at least one friend from home to travel to Bangalore in the fall for dental work instead of paying crazy American prices.

  5. I think I would do it if I needed it — I mean, there are so many top doctors in Europe that come from India and all over the world, I would have no reason to think that they wouldn’t be up to the task! Removing shoes is definitely a bit odd, but hey, we all have funny habits 😀

  6. I think I would do it if I needed it — I mean, there are so many top doctors in Europe that come from India and all over the world, I would have no reason to think that they wouldn’t be up to the task! Removing shoes is definitely a bit odd, but hey, we all have funny habits 😀

    1. It made perfect sense to me as soon as I stepped out of the spotlessly clean clinic and back onto the filthy streets. It’s actually more sanitary just to have bare feet than to track in all the nastiness from the road!

    1. Tell me about it! I actually lost almost all of my fear of the dentist because of this experience, though, so that alone made it worthwhile.

  7. I didn’t know that people travelled abroad for dentistry, I thought it was just cosmetic surgery!! At those prices though it does make sense to have the treatment done and a hol at the same time. I have a fear of the dentist and if I needed a pricey treatment then I would actually now consider going abroad for it.

    1. I didn’t even know dental tourism was a thing until I read about it on Facebook. After having this experience, though, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or recommend this particular dental clinic to anyone.

  8. Such a funny story Leslie! It’s awesome how something so normal as going to the dentist can make for the best travel stories (and experiences)!

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