One of the most nerve-wracking moments in my life was the time I broke a tooth when living in Sweden. Of course, going to the dentist isn’t exactly a barrel of monkeys at the best of times, but as my grasp of the local lingo extended no further than ordering a beer and asking for directions to the bathroom (två öl tack and var är toaletten, since you ask) I was yet to master the requisite vocab to say ‘get that effing instrument out of my effing mouth, ‘cos it effing well hurts!’ Fortunately as Sweden is a nation that prides itself on its near native English ability, the dentist was pretty much fluent, and my fears were unrealised.
Well, that’s not exactly a claim that can be levelled at Japan though, is it? This means that for those of us without a level of Japanese proficiency that includes dental terminology, a trip to the dentist can be a fearful occasion of furious gesticulation and crossing of fingers against the likelihood of pain. Unless, that is, your dentist is the Yamanaka Dental Clinic in Nagoya’s Rokubancho.
Due to fears over high costs and language hurdles, and despite my particularly unhealthy Hai Chu predilection, I initially decided against getting check ups at a Japanese dentist, choosing instead to wait until my annual returns to England and the good old National Health Service. My hand was forced, however, when an old filling fell out (when eating a banana of all things) and on recommendation of a friend I hopped on the Meiko subway line destined for Rokubancho.
My fears over language difficulties were immediately allayed on my first phone call to Yamanaka Dental Clinic as I was able to make an appointment with ease, and upon arrival I was greeted and treated in a friendly English manner. Once my treatment was completed and it was time to face the bill, I was surprised to find that not only could I use my Japanese health insurance card (or private insurance if I preferred), it was cheaper than it would have been back home on our much vaunted NHS. Had I been from the U.S. and used to the exorbitant dental costs you guys are charged, I’m sure I would have shaken my head and rubbed my eyes in a comically cartoonish fashion.
So, six months later, having inexplicably lined up a date with a girl infinitely out of my league, and wanting to polish up my not-so-pearly whites in preparation (black tea and red wine is not a great combination), I returned to Yamanaka Dental Clinic. This time it wasn’t just the great service and low price that surprised me though, but the fact that they had been totally renovated.
The location is the same, a two minute walk from Rokubancho station’s exit 2, but the building is totally revamped. I was greeted at the door by half a dozen smiling faces, including that of Kyoko, dental hygienist and perhaps the primary English speaking face of Yamanaka. She showed me up the stairs to the new surgery. Seriously luxurious-looking chairs flanked each side of the room, one side under the control of Kyoko’s dentist husband, and the other by her dentist son Yusuke, who seemed far too cool to fit into my preconception of how a dentist should be, and himself as fluent in English as his mum.
As I looked around the new setup, a family dentist in the true meaning of the word, I was led past the sterilising station – where all manner of tools were being cleaned under everyone’s watchful gaze, like an open air upmarket restaurant kitchen – and placed into a room with the lovely Rie who was to give me the full polish.
Rie directed me to the chair and as I began to move in the standard backwards trajectory. Perhaps this familiar dentistry scenario put me into a subconscious state of defence, because Rie, noticing me tense, asked if I would care to move to a different room where they had massage chairs. I was sorely tempted – you don’t often get massage chairs on the British NHS – but also lazy and, as I was already lying down decided to stay put.
Instead Rie laid a blanket over my face, which had a similar calming effect as it does a budgie in a cage, and we chatted as amiably as two people possibly can when one has their fingers in the others’ mouth. Finally the seat returned to its upright position, I rinsed and Rie massaged my neck and shoulders. When I voiced my surprise at this unexpected perk, she informed me that: “some people find going to the dentist stressful.” At that moment I could hardly fathom why they would.
The final results were spotless, not a single hint of Chianti to be found. But not only that I felt relaxed, and I can honestly say I haven’t been so happy at a dentist since I was 7 and Dr Molesworth gave me both a sticker and a lollypop for being a good boy. It was the most painless dentistry experience for years.
The date, on the other hand? Not so painless unfortunately, however I am certain that any failings in that respect are down to the shortcomings of my own character, and absolutely nothing to do with my beautiful shining teeth.