In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part III

 

When I last wrote about my search for affordable dentistry, I had decided to seek treatment at Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic, and had booked a discounted plane ticket to Bangkok.  I actually had a few interesting experiences on the flight over.  I’ll discuss those in a separate post, but I wanted to start sharing my experience with the clinic right away while it is fresh in my mind.

I arrived in Bangkok at 10 AM, and made my way through customs and immigration.  Americans receive a free visa on entry.  The airport was incredibly busy, but relatively easy to navigate if you have taken the time to read up on how to get to the city, navigate customs, and avoid scams and touts.  As always, it pays to be prepared.

Getting Phone/Mobile Data

I knew that I wanted to have mobile data available for my stay here, so that I could pull up maps, reviews, and any other information I might need.  All the major Thai carriers offer GSM SIM cards at kiosks in the airport for 299 Baht ($8.34 at today’s exchange rate).  These SIM cards give you unlimited data (about 2 GB at 4G, everything after that 3G) and a small amount of talk time for seven days.

I purchased a SIM card through TrueMove.  Their kiosk (and all the others) are intense.  You hand over your phone, your passport, and your money to the person behind the counter, and they switch your SIM and load the data plan with blinding speed before handing it back to you.  It was efficient and fast, if a little frantic.

Getting into the City

I knew from my reading that a taxi would cost approximately 800 Baht ($22.31), and that Limo or private car service could cost up to 2,000 Baht ($55.79).  I also knew that it is possible to get into the city on public transit for a tiny fraction of that cost, so I decided to give it a try.

I should first say that even though Bangkok is a massive metropolis, my experience with its public transport so far has been very good.  The train cars are clean and modern, the price is low, and there were far fewer people on both systems I experienced than I expected.

I started by going to the basement of the airport, where the City Link rail system has a station.  I paid 45 Baht ($1.26) for a ticket to the end of the line, Phaya Thai station.  I received a token which I waved over a sensor on the way to the platform.  I would later deposit the token at the exit turnstile.  The City Link rail only has one route, so it’s impossible to go wrong. It took about 30 minutes to travel the entire line, and I was able to get a seat with plenty of room.  It never felt unsafe or overcrowded.

At Phaya Thai station, I transferred to the BTS Skytrain system, an elevated train with two lines covering the core of the city.  My Skytrain fare from Phaya Thai to Asok was 34 Baht ($0.95).  The Skytrain was a little more packed, but more like a busy day on a European metro than the extreme crush I have experienced in Tokyo or Mexico City.

In all, it cost me $2.21 to get from the airport to within two blocks of my hotel.  That’s 10% of the cost of taking a taxi, and 4% of the cost of a private car.  I highly recommend doing this if you come to Bangkok!

I checked in at my hotel, which I have paid for with SPG points, and got cleaned up a bit before heading to the dental clinic in the afternoon.

Treatment Day One

My hotel is within easy walking distance of the Bangkok Smile Dental clinic, so I casually walked over a few minutes before my appointment.  The clinic is in a high traffic area, close to major shopping and tourism destinations.  For those without a lot of experience traveling, the neighborhood and city traffic could seem overwhelming.  For anyone who has visited a major non-western city, it’s basically completely average.  It feels safe, and there’s so much to look at: colorful advertisements, various forms of transportation, and a snarl of power cables strung between every building.

I went inside, and found that the small waiting area was fairly welcoming.  The Asok branch of the clinic is the oldest run by the group, but it is still in decent shape.  Everything is clean and in good repair.

I can’t say that the reception is exactly like you’d find in the US, because it wouldn’t be true.  The reception area is like a US dental clinic, but the service is quite different. Upon entering, one of the small army of uniformed staff in the reception area introduced herself, and asked about whether I had an appointment.  I told her my name and appointment time, and she guided me to a computer where I would fill in my patient data.  After that, I was seated and served an orange juice. Though I was thirsty and love OJ, I didn’t drink it. I was self-conscious enough about being seen by the dentist, had just brushed, and was afraid to put more sugar on my teeth!

I was next directed to a patient screening desk, where my blood pressure and temperature were taken.  Every few minutes, I was offered something to drink, or a look at the book of testimonials, or apologized to about the wait.  My impression throughout my appointment was that keeping the patient informed about what was happening was a high priority.  Even though there was no need to apologize to me, and I didn’t expect to be waited on, it went a long way towards calming my nerves and making me feel cared for.  All alone and far from home, it was really appreciated.

At the time of my appointment, I was called up the stairs (the clinic occupies five floors in the building, and there’s an elevator) and directed into an examination room.  Inside, my dentist, her assistant, and a third attendant were waiting.  My dentist introduced herself and despite my fear, I immediately felt that she was a warm presence, which was nice.  She took the time to speak with me before looking at my mouth, understanding my concerns.  I confessed my fear of the dentist, and she joked that 80 percent of her patients were terrified of the dentists, and that she was used to it.  I explained that while my dental issues are at least partly my fault (my fear has kept me from seeking treatment sooner), I wanted to address everything in the best possible way, including any other issues that could become serious in the future.

My dentist examined my mouth, commenting that despite the few serious issues I had mentioned, my teeth were still in decent shape.  That made me feel a lot better.  When you haven’t gone to the dentist in so long, it’s easy to imagine that everything has been ruined.  She agreed that the two most serious issues (two failed crowns and broken roots) would require extraction, and the third issue (a broken cusp on a molar) might be treated by fillings, or possibly by root canal.  The only remaining issues were some cavities, which she noted could easily be treated with fillings.  As the dentist called out the issues, the attendant in the room noted the ordered treatment on her iPad.

The dentist’s assistant then accompanied me to the X-ray unit, where we got four views of my molars.  This was simple and no different than getting X-rays anywhere else.  As with most US dental clinics, the unit is located in the same building.  Side note: unlike most US dental units, Bangkok Smile actually fabricates all of their dentures, implants, and crowns in house, allowing them to treat issues requiring prosthetic devices really quickly.

A couple of very sad teeth.

A couple of very sad teeth.

X-Rays complete, we returned to the examination room, where the dentist showed me what was going on with my teeth.  Even though it was exactly what I expected, it was hard not to feel a little sad when she confirmed that I would indeed require two extractions and a root canal.  Though it would be nice to return home with a full mouth of teeth, she explained that it wasn’t advisable to place an implant immediately after pulling a molar tooth, as it could only occupy one of the exposed root spaces.  If we allowed the jaw to heal after the extraction, the implant could be placed dead center, and the resulting crown would be substantially stronger.

Of course, this meant that one or two more trips would be necessary, but I am committed to seeking the best possible outcome, even if it means a little more treatment.  I agreed that coming back a couple more times was the way to go.

I was escorted back to the waiting room, and a little while later, I was presented with my treatment plan.  Starting tomorrow, I will have a complete cleaning, and my cavities will be filled.  I will then have the first part of a root canal treatment on the damaged tooth.  The root canal specialist will place medication to treat the infection over the next few months.  In the next few days, the two damaged teeth will be extracted, and I will follow up as necessary to see that the initial healing is going well.

Here are the quoted prices from my treatment plan, which covers all treatment across all three (likely) visits.

TreamentPrice
Total:$5,537.11
Full Mouth Scaling and Cleaning (1,500 Baht)$41.84
Six Composite Fillings (8,000 Baht)$223.16
Two Molar Extractions (7,000 Baht)$195.26
Root Canal (12,000 Baht)$334.74
Core Buildup for Root Canal (5,000 Baht)$139.47
Crown for Root Canal Tooth (15,000 Baht)$418.42
Two Implants - Full Procedure w/ Crown (150,000 Baht)$4,184.22

I signed the estimate, as these prices are actually better than I had been hoping for.  I paid for my X-rays ($4.18 each!) and a small deposit toward my root canal ($53.01) and returned to my hotel to get some rest.

Treatment Day Two

I was still adjusting to the time difference on day two. Since I had a treatment scheduled at 1 PM, I didn’t have time to try to do any serious tourism.  I woke up at about 8 AM after a restless night of sleep and walked to a nearby mall to look for breakfast (I didn’t want to pay ~$15 for breakfast at the hotel). I ended up finding a chicken restaurant and had an early lunch for 90 Baht ($2.50).  I still needed to kill a little time, so I went and got an hourlong foot massage for 300 Baht ($8.36).  I headed to the clinic at 1.

Once at the clinic, I was given both oral antibiotics and ibuprofen to deal with infection and pain.  I’m not sure if the antibiotics are normal, but I have a minor heart valve deformity.  I spoke with my doctor before leaving the US and he informed me that it’s no longer necessary to take special antibiotics for dental care for my condition, but I reported it anyway, and it’s possible that I’m being given antibiotics out of an abundance of caution.

My treatment began with my root canal.  I’m not going to lie to you: despite how empathetic and gentle the dentists and oral surgeons have been so far, this still involved some pain.  I spend a couple of hours in the chair for the root canal, but every time I indicated pain, I was quickly treated with more anesthetic.  It wasn’t fun, and it’s not supposed to be.  Still, the root canal specialist communicated each step to me before she began, and that went a long way towards reducing my fears.

Fully numb and fresh out of the chair from my root canal, I was sent to a second dentist for a deep cleaning and all fillings.  I ended up needing seven fillings, as one slightly complicated cavity was discovered during cleaning.  I was given the option of spreading the fillings out into a second day, but I opted to continue and complete all but one, which will be completed when the adjacent tooth is extracted next week.

After a marathon session of cleanings and fillings, my mouth was tender, but I wasn’t in severe pain.  I had spent almost six hours at the clinic, and about four of them in the actual chair.  I paid my bill for the session, which consisted of the remaining cost for my root canal ($264.88), a full mouth scaling and polishing ($39.73), three one surface fillings ($79.46), four two surface fillings ($169.52), seven days worth of amoxicillin ($4.10), and 10 ibuprofen capsules ($2.23).  I was provided with all the medication without needing to visit a pharmacy, as well as written instructions on when to take them.  I have to say that despite the treatments I still need, it feels great to have my mouth clean and all cavities taken care of.

I ate a soft dinner of meat, mashed potatoes, and a beer ($13.94 – most of which dripped out of my rubbery mouth like an infant) and went to bed.  On the evening of day three, I have my first extraction.  Though I have the day to myself, I’m switching to my second hotel, so any tourism will need to be nearby, or at least wait until the afternoon.

Treatment Day Three

There was only one item on the agenda for treatment day three: Extraction of one of my molars.  I arrived at the clinic at 7:00 PM, and it was very quiet, as it was close to closing time.  I was given amoxicillin to take 30 minutes before the surgery.  I was escorted up to the surgical room at my appointment time, where the now-familiar army of assistants and my surgeon were waiting for me.

I explained that this procedure was the one that frightened me the most, and was treated very gently.  The extraction was expected to be the more difficult of the two, as the tooth was the back-most molar, and it was turned at a sharp angle towards the next tooth.  The surgeon suspected that he would have to perform a surgical extraction.  This ended up being the case.  I was extremely thoroughly numbed.  I shut my eyes for most of the surgery, and tried to imagine myself on a tranquil beach on perfect azure waters.  It helped.  The surgeon was forced to cut away at the gums and bisect the tooth to get it out, before stitching my gums back together with a number of sutures.  I felt no pain, but I did feel a fair amount of anxiety despite the good communication.

Thankfully, I have two days off from treatment before returning for my second extraction.  The goal for the weekend is to treat my mouth gently while seeing some of the sites in Bangkok.

Day Four (No Treatment)
Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

I took the SkyTrain to Saphan Tak Sin ($1.22), then the local water taxi to Tha Tien ($0.39), where I visited Wat Pho ($2.78 entrance fee), home of the magnificent reclining Buddha.  I arrived right at 8 when the temple complex opened, and had the whole complex almost entirely to myself.

After exploring the temple complex for almost an hour, I wandered through the nearby fish market, which was interesting and colorful but extremely stinky.  There were also some fresh fruit juice vendors, and I bought both pomegranate and tangerine juices as my breakfast, which were incredibly delicious ($2.23 total).

My friend the Soi Dog.

My friend the Soi Dog.

I took the water taxi and skytrain back to my hotel ($1.61 total) and got a few hours of sleep before rising in the late afternoon when some of the heat and humidity of the day had started to subside.  Bangkok is definitely a town that comes alive at night.  I bought some chicken ($1.39) from a street vendor, but I ended up feeding it all to the stray dogs that roam the streets here (called “Soi Dogs”).  Obviously, I’m a dog person.

I was mostly just killing time, so I went to a cheap foot massage place and paid $8.35 for a one hour foot massage, then wandered to another massage place and paid the same for a one hour head/neck/shoulder massage.  It was a bit of a splurge but it was a relaxing treat after how much time I’ve spent in the dentist’s chair over the past few days.  It was also incredibly awesome.  I can see how cheap massages could become an addiction to expats.

I grabbed a cheap soup dinner ($3.34) and headed back to the hotel for some reading and rest.  On Day Five I’m headed to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, a massive flea market of everything imaginable.

Day Five (No Treatment)

I took the SkyTrain to Mo Chit ($1.17) and walked around the Chatuchak Market in the morning.  It was really interesting, with lots of fresh food vendors and hundreds upon hundreds of stalls selling clothes, crafts, jewelry, and other things.  Many of the clothes appeared to have been donated second hand clothes from the US, but there was plenty of new product, and the crafts made it interesting.

Also interesting was the pet section, where one stall in particular was filled with exotic animals.  The old woman working there put what I later learned was an endangered Slow Loris in my hand and tried to get me to take a selfie, but my instincts told me that I didn’t want to be a part of supporting whatever was going on (many of the animals seemed sick, and most were confined to tiny cages).  Since I didn’t figure out the endangered nature of the Loris until I got back to my hotel, I’m glad I did.

Other costs for the day included the return train ride ($1.17), food ($7.80) and a foot massage ($8.35).

Tomorrow I return to Bangkok Smile for my second extraction.  The first one has started to heal up nicely, and I’m less anxious than I was before about it.  This should also be the easier one as the tooth is more accessible and at less of a strange angle.

Treatment Day Six

I woke up and ate some leftover dinner as my breakfast.  I just chilled at the hotel until it was time to head to the clinic to have my second extraction done.

The same dentist who did all my fillings the other night performed one more filling and an extraction.  This one was much, much easier as the tooth was oriented correctly, and as it was a failed crown, the roots had shrunk to the point where it was not too complicated.  I didn’t feel any pain.

I paid the bill for both extractions and the filling, and headed back to the hotel to rest.  Eating may be complicated for a few days, as both sides of my mouth are out of commission from the extractions.

There’s just one last procedure: a post and core buildup for my root canal tooth.  It was originally scheduled for day seven, but got moved to day nine (the day I depart) to allow the medication applied to my tooth extra time to act.

Day Seven (No Treatment)

I took the Skytrain ($2.33 Round Trip) when I visited the Erawan Shrine, a Hindu shrine most well-known in the west for being the site of a bombing in mid-2015.  The site was extremely secure, and very interesting.  It’s actually a very small open-air shrine, but alive with visitors, military presence, and traditional dancers and musicians.  The dancers are hired by individuals who wish for their prayers to be answered.

I bought some groceries ($11.67) for breakfast and lunch, and caved a little bit and ordered room service for dinner (a princely $14.44).

Day Eight (No Treatment)

IMG_0908

I visited the Royal Palace complex and the Emerald Buddha, by far my single most expensive outing ($3.22 in public transit, $13.89 in admission).  The palace complex is impressive and interesting, and once again I managed to avoid the hordes my getting there right as the palace opened.

I continued to eat my groceries for meals, so I incurred no food costs.

On Day Nine I will complete my treatment (until I return early next year) and head straight to the airport to go home, so it’s going to be a busy day!

Treatment Day Nine

I woke up early on Day Nine, packed up my bags, and headed to the clinic for my last day of treatment.

Post extraction, root canal, and fillings.

Post extraction, root canal, and fillings.

I had to complete my root canal treatment with a core buildup procedure.  I was back with my original dentist, Dr. Sunrisa, who was responsible for planning my entire course of treatment.  She was very reassuring throughout my treatment, and it was nice to touch base with her before heading home.

My treatment complete, I paid my last bill and ran back to the hotel to grab my bags and head to the airport.

Trip One Complete!

It was a long flight home, and I had to get to work first thing the next morning.  I’m still adjusting from the jet lag, but it’s good to be home.

I’ll write a summary post in the next few days, but in short, the treatment has been a really positive and cost-effective experience.  It’s hard to get away for ten days at a time, but given the savings, and the quality of the work, I think it’s worth it in the end.

I hope this has been an interesting series so far.  I realize I got a little wordy in this post and will try to be more succinct in the next two trips.

What do you think?  Is dental tourism something you would consider?  Do you have any questions about the treatment that you’d like me to answer or that I can get the clinic to field?  Let me know in the comments!

My dental tourism journey continues in the next post from this series.

Affordable Dentistry: Treatment Costs So Far

This table shows all costs from the beginning of the plan to travel abroad for treatment through the writing of this article.

ExpensePrice
Grand Total:$1,579.75
Hotel$0
Flights$517.00
Food$81.97
Entertainment$36.19
Communication$8.34
Local Transportation$13.32
Dental (4 X-rays)$13.95
Dental (1 Root Canal - Molar)$317.89
Dental (1 Root Canal - Core Build Up)$92.76
Dental (1 Deep Cleaning/Polish)$39.73
Dental (3 One Surface Fillings)$79.46
Dental (5 Two Surface Fillings)$211.85
Dental (Extraction w/ Soft Tissue Impaction)$92.59
Dental (Extraction)$66.14
Dental (Assorted Medications)$8.56
Dental Only Total:$922.93

 

8 thoughts on “In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part III

  1. Maggie

    I’ll be interested to see the full cost breakdown after having to go back a couple more times! Good luck out there. Dentistry anywhere is never fun! But it sounds as pleasant as possible over there!

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks, Maggie! You’ve got that right, I’m one day behind on this post, so I’ve had the first day of treatment. Despite the high level of service, dental treatment is still dental treatment. Extrapolating out this trip, I’m guessing my total cost will end up in the 7-7.5K range, barring unforeseen stuff. That’s about 50% the US cost. We’ll know more over the coming months!

  2. Pingback: In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part II

  3. Penelope

    An interesting and useful article. I too will be watching from UK with interest as your treatment completes. Your flights were very good value too.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thank you, Penelope! Though there are still a couple of trips to come, the whole first trip was a great experience. I definitely observed a large number of UK expats/tourists in the clinic. Totally anecdotal, but it seemed that it was probably a good value for UK folks, too. I’ve reached out to Bangkok Smile to get a rough percentage of where most of their visitors come from, and I’ll hopefully have that info to post in the near future.

  4. Ann

    Thanks for this info! I’m looking for ways to reduce medical and dental costs. Saving money and having a reason to travel is a win win for me!

  5. Pingback: In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part IV - The Frugal Vagabond

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