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How to bond with your dentist

A tooth repair spans two continents, nine months, and a rotating cast of dentists.

Gracia Lam

I grew up being afraid of dentists. A couple of years ago, when one of my wisdom teeth began to ache, I happened to be in India. I can see a variety of people when I need a dentist in my hometown, Lucknow — street dentists, qualified dentists, pretending-to-be-dentists. I played it safe and chose one of the top dentists.

A middle-aged woman with a stern expression, she told me I needed a root canal. It would take six appointments and a total of 8,000 rupees, about $150, which would include a shiny new crown. I knew the work would set me back at least $1,500 in the States. I quickly agreed.


Her office was about as big as a king-size bed. A cricket match was playing on a television mounted on the wall. Her assistant, a young man with a cheeky smile, stuck a suction pipe in my mouth but kept his eyes glued to the screen. The first appointment went all right, but the next time I came in, the dentist said she thought I didn’t need the anesthesia.

“You can handle a little pain, I know,” she said.

As soon as she poked my tooth, I winced in pain. The attendant found it funny.

The doctor stared at me and said: “You know, I have a patient who is only 8 years old. He is braver than you.”

From then on, she mocked me every time I cried in pain. After six visits, the hell was over and I returned to the States.

A few months ago, my tooth began to hurt again. This time I went to the dental school at the University of Michigan, where my doctor was a young woman from the Dominican Republic. I told her I’d recently read the Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz’s work. We immediately connected. After a long session, she told me to come back in two weeks for the crown.


The crown broke in less than three months. I was back at the dental school. This time, my doctor was a Spaniard. I asked about the last dentist. “She graduated and went back to her country,” the receptionist told me.

I sighed, said hello to the dentist from Spain, and told him I liked Lionel Messi.

“Messi!” he exclaimed. “You know him?”

“Not personally, but I know of him. I like the way he plays soccer.”

“Great! I love him, too.”

My session with this dentist went smoothly. Now I had to come back in another two weeks for some more work.

This time, my dentist was from Saudi Arabia. I told him I was from India to see if he had anything to say. He didn’t.

He had me open my mouth for a total of three hours. At the end, when I still had my jaw wide open, he brought his face close to mine and said, “Guess who I am engaged to.”

I had no idea what he meant.

“Guess who I am engaged to,” he said again.

I looked at him, baffled.

“Guess, guess.”

Helplessly, I gave him a blank look.

“Indian,” he said.

I learned that he was getting married to someone from India. We had finally connected.

I now have a new crown, and I am praying that I don’t have to be in a dentist’s chair anytime soon.


My dental saga started in India and ended in America with dentists from all over the world. I am still not sure whether it was better to get yelled at and mocked by my Indian dentist or to go to a dental school in the United States and spend nine months and five times more money to get a tooth fixed.

Maybe I am just a bad patient.

Deepak Singh is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Send comments to

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