Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The dentist

I decided it was time to see a dentist here. There wasn't anything wrong, really, but I'm a regular twice a year visitor and I was a little overdue.

The word for dentist in German is Zahnarzt, which literally translated means "tooth doctor." One of the things I like about the German language is that it can be so very logical. An electric tea kettle is a Wasserkocher, a "water cooker." A refrigerator is a Kuhlschrank, or "cold cabinet". These things make a lot of sense. Then there's my personal favorite, the word for glove is Handschuh - you guessed it, "hand shoe".

So I asked a couple of people at the International School for a referral to an English-speaking Zahnarzt and I got a couple of names. I decided that I would go with the first one that had a receptionist who could talk to me on the phone in English. This was Tuesday at about 3pm. I called and all of a sudden had an appointment for Wednesday at 9am. The next day? What sort of an operation was this? I am used to waiting weeks if not months to see a tooth doctor.

When I went to the dental clinic in the morning I learned an important lesson. If you try and speak German with a German, they will likely continue talking to you in German. I guess this makes sense, but in my mind I wanted to show them I knew a little and then have them all switch to English after a few minutes. It didn't quite happen that way. The dental assistant and the dentist talked to me mostly in German and, to my surprise, I mostly understood them. It's not like we were conversing fluently - they were really patient and repeated themselves a lot and I listened more than I spoke - but I did ok. The dentist did switch to English when he was going over my X rays and when I looked extra confused.

As for the dental work itself, that went fine. All they really did was look at my teeth and X ray them. Then they told me I needed two more appointments  - one to touch up some fillings, which was covered by insurance, and one for a cleaning, which was not covered and would cost 110 euros. What? not covered? 110 euros? What if I went to another dentist?, I asked the dental assistant (not that eloquently). That wouldn't matter, she told me, it's not covered. I was so overwhelmed trying to process the language and the insurance coverage and the fact that my mouth had just been inspected so I just did as I was told and signed up for the appointments.

I was still puzzled by the whole issue. It made no sense to me that they would pay for the restorative work but not the preventive work. I know a thing or two about health insurance in the US, and how coverage sometimes makes no sense. So it didn't seem impossible that German insurance would be the same way. But I also wasn't sure that I'd heard correctly. I did a little research online and it appeared that yes, German insurance does not cover dental cleanings. It doesn't matter which dentist you go to or which insurance provider you have.

 I told Brian who asked a few of his coworkers about it. It turns out that everyone has a tooth doctor, and everyone has to pay for cleanings, which range in price and there's some sort of a card that you get punched every time like at the coffee shop or the car wash. Brian decided it was all a racket and I should have no part of it. Of course, he is the one who gets a checkup once every three years and the dentist tells him to drink all the soda he wants and come back in another three. I am not so lucky. I always have some area that's being "watched," like they are spying on my teeth.

I recognize that Americans are a little extreme about their dental hygeine compared to people from other parts of the world. Is every six months a little too often for a cleaning? I mean, maybe it's not the insurance policy that has the wrong standards, maybe it's me. I'm a good flosser, and I brush my teeth more than most people. Plus, 110 euros is a lot of money. So I decided that I will wait for a cleaning until the fall or winter.  I called and cancelled that part of the appointment, but I'll still do the filling touch-up. That seems more important anyway, and is free.

So my first experience with the German health care system actually went pretty well, now that I think about it. I got there, I mostly got what I came for, and I mostly communicated. And the place was alright. They were nice and saw me on time. The clinic was clean and new-looking. The tooth doctor even wore hand shoes.


  1. what was the dentist you went to?

  2. This was a clinic in the Zoo neighborhood. Now I am going to Zahnartzinnen Sudstadt and am happy with it.


About Me

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Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.