The Dentist in Cusco – Peru, South America

More Dental Offices Than Teeth
Why are there so many dental offices in Peru and yet so few teeth? The dental offices are easy to spot, a big tooth hangs outside, which should have been a clue, but I wasn't paying attention. People here don't have too many teeth; there's a polite show of front teeth, then nothing – gums only.

I'm not talking about the elderly and infirm; rather the mouths of otherwise middle class looking young people. In inverse proportion to the American habit of riping out and buying new, in Peru, they just rip. And I had no idea why.

This was just a random thought of a moderate liberal – until I cracked my own tooth. (The crack was not a surprise. Dentists give warnings, but you cross your fingers and hope when things start flying out of your mouth, you'll be in – say – Sweden – at a dental convention – not in Peru, a day before a long hike).

The Dental Clinic
The tourist information lady recommends an expensive clinic. I go. It is sleek. I'm ushered past the plasma television and the bar (really), into a glamorous consulting room where a dentist examines my teeth for a few seconds.

"Hmm", he says, "this one will need a cap."

"It is a cap", I answer.

He looks again. "Ah, yes, it is."

The Dentist and His Assistants
The beautiful assistant nods in agreement. They start selling additional procedures. I purchase the cleaning, which I don't need, but I figure it's OK. Like a television hostess, the assistant shows me the itemized bill on a computer screen. Two new glamorous assistants clean my teeth, using the loud drills I remember from childhood. Above the painful sounds, they attempt to sell a teeth whitening package. They play good cop and good cop. Cleavage plays a major part.

I finally see the dentist and, of course, his gorgeousl assistant. She is also stylish, which is good because she can't hold the spit removal thing. This dentist greets me formally and begins to operate – on the wrong tooth. He pretends this is a language issue, then justifies himself with the comment, "This tooth is VERY bad. All your teeth are bad, many cavities." The beautiful, stylish assistant concurs.

My lips are numb and I'm drowning in my own spit. I'm not too happy. The dentist goes back to the first argument, again pretends it's a language issue. He does this by using the only English word he knows – Spit – instead of escupe, which means the same thing and worked fine for the first two hours. That's right, two hours on one tooth.

"Bite down." he says for the sixth time. "Perfect, no?"

I can't close my mouth. He sighs, looks at his watch and then at the beautiful, stylish assistant who shrugs,

He's probably thinking – Gringos, who can figure them? I'm thinking they're having an affair. She's going to bag this one and quit. Five years later, he'll have an affair with the new, beautiful assistant, and I'll still be sitting here.