3Dr. Wang’s injection seemed never ending as she released the contents slowly then gently removed the needle. I slumped deeper into the chair, prepared to succumb to whatever lay ahead. The time for fight or flight had indeed passed.

While the anaesthetic took effect, her gloved finger tapped the tooth needing repair, then another nearby which had been restored in Australia a few months earlier. ‘The same white enamel,’ I spluttered, thinking she would understand.
At this point the doctor called her assistant over. But her request, it turned out, was not to prepare the filling. The woman left the booth and returned with — wait for it — a dictionary. Dr. Wang kept repeating the words, ‘white’ and ‘enamel’ but could not find them.

As she put the tiny book down, I just hoped the enamel coating would not be a stand-out shade of grey. My mouth now numb, I offered no resistance to the constant vibration of the drill, like a jackhammer6 digging on
a building site. A quarter of an hour later the drilling stopped, and the filling started. But more than an hour passed before I would see the finished result.

When a mirror was handed to me, I held it tentatively to my mouth, fearing what I would see. A botched job? A grey enamel front? If the tooth fairy7 was real, I hoped she would grant my wish in exchange for good behaviour. At least I had not lashed out with my foot.

At first I could not find the tooth. It had been restored not with grey enamel, but a natural white the same as those on either side of it — a perfect match. Despite the lack of feeling in my mouth, I gave a wide smile of approval to Dr. Wang and her beaming staff.

In the west, we often joke about the part that hurts most when going to the dentist — paying the bill. My first visit to a Chinese dentist had a different ending. It cost only ¥280, well below what I would have paid in Australia, although the time taken was twice as long.

After thanking Dr. Wang for her skill and patience, I promised to recommend her to my CRI colleague who had ‘spun the yarn8’ about his bad experience. He not only made an appointment the next day, but signed up for treatment more extensive than mine. He told me later ‘it was worth every penny.

When I returned to Australia last Christmas, I made an appointment with my family dentist to get his reaction to this example of Chinese dental work. Looking closely, he declared: ‘She did a darn9 good job.’ When I told him how much it cost, his own mouth opened wide in amazement.

Australian dentists are said to be the country’s highest earners. If Dr. Wang reads this, perhaps she will call me back for a check-up. Maybe I should call first, just in case her fees go up.

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