Monday, March 22, 2010

Saigon solution: Medical tourism 101

Imagine being gripped with a major pain in the jaw, which intermittently throbbed and threatened to take your head off… and then just as suddenly disappeared.
That’s what I’d been feeling for months. Over-the-counter pain relief drugs were no longer stopping the sometimes stabbing feeling… What was it?
No sooner had we settled into Saigon’s quiet Hoang Phong Hotel than I said to Eric: “Let’s find a dentist.” In moments, he’d fired up the Internet and found West Coast International Dental Clinic -- a ten minute walk from the hotel. It was 19:00 on Thursday, March 18.
Katharine at the West Coast Clinic.
Once inside the immaculate clinic, I felt reassured that here in Saigon, I could find excellent care. Fluent (in English) receptionists asked how they could help. Immediately I was whisked into an examining room – where Eric was also made comfortable.
Dr. Andrew Tsang, originally based in Vancouver, entered. After after enquiring about my symptoms, he took x-rays and examined my tooth with a focussed blue LED light, which revealed a bad fracture in the second-last molar on my right, lower jaw. Would the tooth need to be extracted? Or, could an attempt be made to save it, if the fracture proved not too deep? He was unsure and booked a second appointment with a colleague.
X-ray after cleaning out two of the four root
canals in Katharine’s tooth.
To make a longish story short, the procedure which followed took three more visits. Dr. Diem welcomed me into her office the next morning at 10:00 at which time she agreed with Dr. Tsang’s diagnosis. She recommended an operation that afternoon at 13:30. Everyone hoped she could save my tooth.
 She did. On Friday afternoon, Dr. Diem discovered my tooth had four roots, two of which were so badly infected she couldn’t complete a root canal… even after two injections. So she packed my tooth and we booked a next day appointment, this time with an anaesthetist.
How many dentists do you know who would relinquish their Saturday day-off to complete an emergency operation for a traveller? Now wonder the same for anaesthetists!
On Saturday morning, an anaesthetist joined Dr. Diem and the two women set to work. After my anaesthetic injection, I awoke with the job completed – and mumbling something about giraffes and zebras jumping about inside my mouth…

Dr Diem completing the root canal procedure.
One more visit allowed Dr. Diem to ensure the temporary crown she’d inserted was okay. It was, and she fully expects it will last until I can either return to her Saigon clinic in November, or to my own Canadian dentist after my return to Canada.
No wonder Dr. Diem told us Saigon aims to surpass Bangkok and Hong Kong as SE Asian medical tourism destinations. While I was there, Eric and I met many international patients – from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
With superb care, top-of-the-line technology, fluent English, and a hospitable, clean environment, West Coast International Dental Clinic has my vote of confidence. And the price? A third of what the procedure would have cost in Canada, not even counting the anaesthetic.
Medical tourism? Why not? With prices at home rising and queues lengthening, it makes sense to consider going to a country where professional assistance can be obtained quickly, relatively inexpensively – in a destination worthy of exploration, to boot!