Monday, 7 February 2011

Getting my Wisdom Teeth Out... in Japan

Major oral surgery... in a foreign country??

The very notion strikes fear into the hearts of many - be they xenophobic, odontophobic* or my parents. (*That's fear of teeth or dental surgery.) But when my teeth started hurting back in December, I decided that I had better get them checked out.. after all, I had already been told a few years ago that my bottom wisdom teeth were growing through impacted. After an X-ray, I was told that I should get ALL FOUR of my wisdom teeth removed.

Should I have them out in Japan? I wondered. Wouldn't it be easier to get them out in the UK? Well, it might have been cheaper, as the UK has the NHS (National Health Service, meaning that most medical care is free), although I don't know if dental surgery is covered for those over 18 or not in full-time education. Still, the thing about the NHS is that you normally have to wait months and months for an appointment - it would have been August or September 2011 by the time I could have had them out, plus I'd have to book a flight home. On the other hand, I had heard that in Japan they didn't like to use general anaesthetic, meaning that I would be awake during the operation. The thought of being conscious and aware while my gums were cut open and my teeth hacked out filled me with dread.

Interac provide us with native Japanese speakers who also speak English, great for dealing with paperwork and medical issues... while some of my friends have said that their ICs (that's Independent Contractor, I think) have appalling English, mine is wonderful. I have NO idea how I would have done the whole thing without her, and I feel sorry for employees of other companies to expect their workers to fend for themselves. I wish I could offer advice on doing this alone, but sadly I can't... I relied on the translation, as I could only pick up a few sentences here and there (not the best idea when surgery is involved). After telling them that I wanted to be unconscious for the operation, they told me that they could give me an IV solution that would render me very sleepy, making me only semi-conscious. This sounded OK to me.

I was amazed at how soon I could book my actual appointment.... a couple of weeks in advance!! In the U.K. I would have been told to go home and wait for a letter, which would probably have taken about 10 months. I was told that I'd have to stay overnight, because the anaesthetic would knock me out. The appointment was made for January the 19th, and I booked a whole week off work in order to heal... as my job involves talking, it seemed like a good idea!

On January 19th, my IC picked me up and we headed to the hospital. I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything from around 9am. They hooked me up to an IV drip. I had no idea what was being pumped into my veins, and nobody thought to tell me. Ah well. Around 1pm they changed the bag to the magical sleepy solution.
"It probably won't have much effect on my big gaijin body," I thought, closing my eyes for a moment. Suddenly I was being roused. 30 minutes had passed and I had no idea where I was. They asked me to move onto a stretcher-type-thing in order to be wheeled into the surgery room. My head was spinning, but I was aware of the ceiling passing me by, the masked faces, the room... my IC putting on a mask and protective coat and asking if I'd prefer her to stay in the room with me... me, weakly, nodding.

On the operating table, I was far too conscious, at first. This sounds creepy, and I now wonder whether I hallucinated it or not.. but they put some kind of tape over my eyes, held my mouth open with a metal device of some sort, and covered the rest of my face with plastic, leaving only my mouth in view. They stretched my mouth open, the pressure on my jaw and the feeling of whatever numbing agent they injected into my gums agonising, but all I could do was squeal pathetically. I could feel nothing as they hacked my gums open, but I could hear the terrifying, high-pitched scream of the drill, the crunching of my teeth, and the brain-pounding thump of the stitches being put in. I winced and made little sounds but I couldn't do anything else. Then, I felt a warm, maternal hand in mine. I assumed it was my IC. You have no idea how comforting that was. Then, a nurse held my other hand. I have no idea how hard I might have crushed those poor ladies' hands, but in the absence of my mother (or boyfriend - the company wouldn't give him time off to come with me) it made me feel a lot better.
After they'd done the right side, they switched to the left. I started to feel sleepy... suddenly, I was dreaming. A few minutes passed (for me) and suddenly they were telling me that they had finished. I was in there for nearly 90 minutes. If only that stuff had kicked in a little earlier...

I physically couldn't move back onto the stretcher. I could barely stay awake. When I (somehow) ended up back in my bed, I tried to text Jeff, but the words that I managed to send him that evening were pretty unintelligible! I tried to stay awake but sleep, like a dark, welcoming coccoon, kept pulling me back under. When I needed to go to the toilet, a nurse had to wheel me there in a wheelchair, still hooked to my IV. When I glanced in the mirror, I saw not my familiar visage but a ZOMBIE.... in my green hospital pyjamas, my hair everywhere, my mascara under my eyes, my teeth a blood-streaked red, and for some reason my skin yellow... it was pretty terrifying, I tell you.

For dinner they gave me rice, some kind of tuna and some pickles, none of which I could realistically swallow, but I tried my best. I started to gain a little more awareness at about 8 or 9pm, so I sat up reading for a while. My tongue and lips felt dry and numb, and eating and drinking was hard because I couldn't really tell where my mouth was. I was in pain, but not much, because the anaesthetic was taking care of that for me.

The next morning, I was woken up by breakfast - a slightly more edible bowl of rice, some egg and miso soup. Two bags of IV solution were pumped into me and at 11am my IC came to take me home. Surprisingly, I felt fine. It was Thursday, and I had until the following Thursday booked off work, so I packed some clothes together and jumped on the train to go see Jeff. Sure, he had to work during the weekdays, but at least he could be there with me in the evenings and all through the weekend. While he was at work I amused myself by getting horribly addicted to Civilization: Revolution on the PS3... a wonderful distraction from the pain!

That first night, I felt OK, and I managed to eat okonomiyaki! When I say "eat", I mean "swallow" or "inhale", you understand. I was surprised at how good I felt, considering that I had just had four teeth ripped out of my skull (which, by the way, they gave me in a little bag as a keepsake... the bottom two had been hacked into several pieces, and they were covered in blood, yum!!... I showed Jeff, and then threw them away forever).

The next morning, however, the pain was unbearable. I don't want to bore you too much, so I'll keep it brief... the first week was horrible. I took far more painkillers than I should have done, and it didn't really help. The stitches themselves were a part of it - every time I smiled, wiry stitches would scrape against my gums and cheek. I could eat soup, rice and possible soft things if they were cut up into small enough pieces, but there was no way I could chew anything (even a piece of bread). Part of the difficulty was that I could open my mouth about an inch wide, and then it simply refused to open any further... no resistance or pain, it just WOULDN'T, as if it had never been possible. This made brushing my teeth quite challenging, too.

I had the stitches removed a week later. They unapologetically yanked them out, leaving me feeling very sore and weak - OUCH. After that, though, I could smile again... the pain started to ease off, and I found that I could open my mouth wider than an inch again! I also finally got to find out how much it was going to cost me... 35,000円 for the operation... 5000円 for the pre-operation tests to determine whether I could safely take the anaesthetic, and 1500円 for removing the stitches. Ouch!! Still, it wasn't as bad as I'd built myself up to expect.

By today, I'm still popping ibuprofen, but only every 6 or 7 hours. It isn't painful, now, but it is uncomfortable. If I drink something cold, it really hurts. I've cancelled school lunch for the next two weeks, bringing in my own soft food instead. One of the risks of having your wisdom teeth out is that the feeling will never return to your lips! Luckily, the feeling was back after a day (it can take weeks). All in all, I think it went very well. My face swelled up a bit for the first week, but you really couldn't tell at all, now. So, would I recommend having your wisdom teeth out in Japan? Absolutely! Japanese hospitals are clean and the nurses are friendly and kind. Just make sure you have a translator. I was without mine from 6pm on the day of surgery until the next morning and I managed OK, though... partly due to being too sleepy to talk in ANY language, partly because I speak *some* Japanese and the doctor spoke *some* English, and partly due to gestures and the like. I think I've healed as well as it's possible for anyone to heal after having their wisdom teeth out!

Some useful Japanese / Survival Japanese - At the Dentist's

Dentist : Ha-isha (歯医者)

Tooth/teeth : Ha

Wisdom teeth: Oyashirazu (親知らず - it means "unbeknown to the parents")

Extract: Nuku

So... "I had my wisdom teeth extracted" = Oyashirazu o nuita/nukimashita

It hurts! : Itai!

I.V. (intra-venous solution) : Tenteki

Anaesthetic/anesthetic : Masui

I'm sleepy : Nemui desu

I can't eat this : Kore wa taberarenai

It's bleeding / It was bleeding: Chi ga deru/chi ga deta (lit: blood is/was coming out)

I feel dizzy : Memai suru...

Wisdom Teeth Removal Aftercare

*Don't do anything that changes the pressure in your mouth, especially on the same day as the surgery - this includes smoking, drinking through straws, rinsing your mouth out or spitting blood out! This is very important to remember, as you can disrupt the clotting and cause something called dry socket, which can lead to a LOT of pain and infection.

*For the first week, you probably won't be able to eat/drink much. It can be hard to think of things to eat, though - the imagination tends not to wander beyond "soup", so here are my suggestions, or the "wisdom tooth diet":

Soup - however, this can be more nutritious than packet soup. If you have a blender, you can mix some cooked vegetables in with broth, or perhaps cut up small chunks of bread and throw them into the pan - they will become soft and easy to swallow without causing you pain
Ice cream - but be careful! Your gums can be very sensitive to cold after the surgery.
Smoothies - If you have a blender, throw in a load of fruit! Be careful of seeds, as they could get stuck in the healing wounds (yum)
Rice - It's actually possible to eat rice as it doesn't require much chewing. So, you can mix up some good rice dishes using soft things
I made a rice dish mixing tofu, avocado and eggs, and a second time I substituted eggs for mango chutney - delicious!
Gratin (yep, you can manage it!)
Puddings (for example creme brulee)
Okonomiyaki - yep, if you cut it up into small enough pieces, it's perfectly edible, I think!
I even managed hamburger steak, the crumbly, soft kind, cut up into very small pieces. Of course, this involves inhaling rather than chewing the food so you have to be careful!
Peanut butter
Cream cheese

*Brush your teeth after eating, so that nothing gets stuck... but be careful! Brushing too hard near the extraction sites could lead to bleeding.

*If it still hurts a LOT after two weeks, if one side is more painful than others and is very sensitive to cold, you should return to your dentist to make sure you haven't got dry socket!

*Painkillers will help ease the pain, but NOT aspirin as it will slow down the clotting process. Ibuprofen can help reduce the inevitable swelling in your face. Just remember to eat enough, as taking painkillers on an empty stomach can damage your stomach lining and cause ulcers in the long run.

*Don't poke the wounds! I find it hard not to explore them with my tongue but it can delay the healing process...

For the record, it is now February the 7th. My operation was on January the 19th... and I successfully ate pizza yesterday! Hooray!

If you have any questions about wisdom tooth extraction or medical care in Japan, feel free to comment and I'll try to answer!


  1. Way to be brave and awesome. I'm glad it went so well for you.

  2. The recovery stage after wisdom teeth removal is usually unpleasant. There are too many Ows and Ouches, and not enough solid food. Looking at the bright side, it's not everyday that you get to go to the dentist in a foreign country.

    1. Thanks for the information it was very helpful since im planning to remove my wisdom teeth here in Japan as well.
      Can i ask which dentist you went and also thus the cost cover all of 4 teeth? Thanks

  3. It was really helpful to solve my confusion,

    General and Cosmetic Dentistry

  4. Hi! I'm afraid I don't know where it was exactly, but it was some hospital in Hamamatsu... my company's translator took me there, though. Yes, the cost was for all 4 teeth! I imagine it would be the same in most places :).

  5. Thank you for this! I am still on the fence about getting mine removed because I am terrified by the thought of being conscious while having my teeth removed. And I have a very low tolerance for pain. If I waited and did this back home in America in several months, it will cost a lot more, but I will be put to sleep. From your experience, would you recommend getting it done here (even though I'm terrified of the thought of getting it done here)?

  6. Hey! Well, I don't know what the dental care is like back in America, but I'm sure it's more expensive... and I've heard some say that Japanese dental care is really good compared to anywhere else! It's a bit scary being drugged up by nurses who don't speak English, and that's when I was grateful for the basic Japanese I'd learnt. They were very nice, though, and well... I think it's going to be scary anywhere. The worst thing was that they normally would do it while you're wide awake, but I insisted that I wanted to be unconscious - or at least, semi-conscious - so they agreed to the "twilight" thing. Comparing my experience to what I know from the UK, I would recommend it... even though it was a bit scary, and I was in loads of pain for a week after, I healed very quickly and haven't had any issues since!

  7. Hi I was wondering if the 41,000 + yen you paid was with insurance or without.

    Also I was wondering how the school felt about you taking some time off for the surgery.

    Its my first year in Japan and since I just started in April and I have to get my tooth removed. Im planning to put it off until the Summer break. But the tooth really really really hurts.

    Did you have to pay for the 41,000 yen upfront all in one fee or can you pay for it in installments?

  8. Hi! Sorry for taking ages to reply to this. No, they give you a card with the amount you owe on it, and you can put that card in a machine at the hospital and pay it off in bits, I think. Not really sure how long they'd wait before chasing up the money, because I paid it all at once (oh, those were the days).

    I imagined that the school would be annoyed, but they didn't seem to mind. I suppose it depends on your schools and your relationship with them - I guess they found this an acceptable reason to be off for a week. If you try taking time off just to travel, though, they do not have the same attitude.

  9. Thanks! The japanese words you wrote was very helpful :) i had mine extracted a week ago. I was afraid at first with so many rumors about how bad dentist here. I read your blog and decided to go for it. And it was a really good experience. I have no complaint at all about the whole process. :)
    again, thank you for writing this

  10. Wow, you are so brave! I want to take mine out too! But hesitating to because I have class on weekdays and I don't know if I can withstand the pain! But I'm desperate to take my bottom wisdom teeth out because after eating can be a pain. I'm afraid I might start an infection.... Just want to be safe than sorry.

  11. It’s not everyday that one can have their wisdom teeth removed in a foreign country, so your experience is truly remarkable. If I were in your shoes, I could have only managed to say “Itai!” Haha! But anyway, during such surgery, your comfort is of utmost importance, so you’re lucky for being well taken care of.

    Landen Worley

  12. Among the Japanese words you’ve mentioned here, what were the ones you used the most? I hope that it wasn't “Itai!” Anyhow, when I got my wisdom tooth removed, smoothies and yogurt are my favorite food to eat. During my recovery period, I truly learned how to eat in moderation. I survived without having heavy meals.

  13. Wow this is a really interesting story. Sounds like a real adventure.

    Dentist Philadelphia

  14. As if the pain of extracting four wisdom teeth wasn’t enough to deal with, you had to add language barrier to your predicament. It’s great to know your experience went just fine. You even learned a few terms in their language along the way. Thanks for sharing them along with your overall experience!

    Karen Perry @ Brookside Smiles

  15. Might be an old post but this really helps a lot. At least I know how much it's going to cause and the procedure since I've never been to a dentist and the first time I have to go is in a foreign country all alone. Anyway thanks for your advice and I hope mine goes as well as yours did.