Dentistry in Korea

Korea has exceptional dental care, but beware of aggressive treatments that are primarily cosmetic. While fillings are covered under health insurance plans, root canals and crowns are not, and unscrupulous dentists often perform unnecessary procedures on unwitting patients. I’m publishing a letter I sent to my dentist back home a couple of years ago after I cracked a molar eating popcorn.

May 21, 2010

Dear Doctor Kohler,

Right before coming to Korea, I visited your office for a check-up, and I believe you took care of one filling for me. Shortly after coming to Korea, I broke a molar, and I had to have both a root canal and a crown made. Afterward, during a routine check-up, I was told by a dentist that I needed over twelve fillings, and I was horrified. I have been going to your office for over thirty years, and usually I develop at most one cavity or so per year. So I asked for copies of the X-rays to send to you for your opinion, but he wouldn’t give them to me. So I went to another dentist recommended by some friends, and although he didn’t take any X-rays, after examining me, he said I needed one filling, and I told him to go ahead and do it. That was maybe 1-1/2 years ago.

I’ve been afraid to see any other dentists here since then, because they all seem to want to do all kinds of work on me, even though I’m not experiencing any problems. Well, last weekend while watching a movie, I broke a tooth (a premolar?) while eating popcorn, and I had to go to a dentist to repair it. A co-worker of mine recommended a dentist near my home. The office has the latest in high-tech facilities and the care there is exceptional. I’m currently having a root canal and crown made for that tooth, and I didn’t experience any discomfort when they made me a temporary. I’m supposed to return again next week.

While I was there, they took X-rays and photos and told me that I need something like 17 teeth worked on (fillings) as well as several crowns and possibly several more root canals! They say a couple of my lower molars have severe decay beneath the fillings (and maybe beneath one crown as well!). They seem to know what they are doing, but how is it possible that in only 2-1/2 years (the last time I visited your office before coming to Korea) I’ve developed so many problems? Could you have a look at the pictures and tell me what you think? I want to take care of my teeth, but I don’t want to have any unnecessary procedures done, either. I should add that both of my two front teeth are chipped, and one of them is sensitive to hot and cold. Thank you so much!

Jonathan Pais

A treatment plan costing over $3,000 – $2,000 of unnecessary work?

And the reply:

Nice to hear from you, but other circumstances would be better!  Just a few observations:
1.  Usually, broken teeth don’t require root canals before restoration with a crown.
2.  Panoramic films are not the best way to diagnose decay, but I don’t see any on yours.
3.  I know a lot of your fillings were quite old when you left here, but so was I–does that mean I should be replaced, too?
4.  The bottom line here is that you are there, getting care from the dentists that are there.  Find the one who you feel you can trust and stick with him regardless of how convenient/cheap/expensive/close/far etc he is.  I think you already know that dentists are not fungible (look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls) and I’m sure there is one who will take good care of you.
5.  I wish I could be more help, but…

All the Best
Dr. Kohler

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