About two years ago I started having a really bad toothache. The cause of the pain was one of my wisdom teeth and to make matters worse pieces of it kept breaking off from time to time. After years of butchery from English dentists I had developed a fear of dentistry and that coupled with rumours of extortionate prices at US dentists had deterred me from seeking the help I needed. I thought that eventually the problem tooth would just fall out or something and that would be that but one day in a Cocoa Beach hotel I woke to find that half my face had swollen up. The tooth had now ruptured and the infection had spread to my whole head. I had no choice. It was time to visit the dentist.The dentist was a nice enough guy similar to Mr Rogers of PBS kids and having extracted the offending tooth he explained that if I had left it any longer I probably would have kicked the bucket. Just to make me feel even better he explained that most of my teeth were pretty much buggered and that to fix them would cost around $20 grand. “Jolly good” I said. I didn’t want him to realise that I was thinking about jumping out of the nearest window so I shook his hand and left wondering how I was going to explain this one to the old lady who up until now had absolutely no idea that I had so much as a touch of plaque.I started up the engine of my rental car popped in a cd of Abba’s greatest hits and hit the road. I started trying to imagine how Indiana Jones or Han Solo would handle this situation. On the one hand I had no money but on the other hand I had to come up with $20 grand or die. For some unknown the theme music of Dr Zhivago came into my mind. Nice tune but what could it mean ? What was the messgae behind it ? Well Zhivago was a Doctor and Doctors are kind of like dentists and he is Russian ! Yes Russian ! Not American ! Russian Doctors are cheaper than American ones ! I wanted to jump for joy at my Eureka breakthrough but given that the road was surrounded by alligator infested swamps that wouldn’t have been a good idea as one slip of the wheel would have turned me into gator bait. Nevertheless I had found a solution and it was called dental tourism.OK so you would think that from there I would have made my plans and immediately and found a dentist overseas but no, this is me we are talking about here and I had decided to
bury my head in the sand for a while. Sadly I couldn’t live in denial forever and the rest of my teeth started to rapidly disintegrate and before long I realised the time had come to make the dream a reality. I set about looking for “dental toursim” on Google. I read a few horror stories about how dentists in Mexico were unregulated and how one woman went to Tijuana to get a root canal but she went to a quack and came back as a hybrid of a human and a bottle nosed dolphin. Not good. Africa would probably be cheap but maybe a tad risky so I decided on Europe and started to Google cheap European dentists. Immediately I hit gold in Hungary. Unbeknown to me Budapest had become a Mecca for Englishmen with dodgey teeth and although the prices were far less than in the USA they were still a little out of my range so I started to consider other European options. Azerbaijan, Albania and Ukraine didn’t yield any results but then I had a thought: Romania. This country was pretty poor and cheap and yet had just joined the EU which would surely mean they must have some kind of dental standards right ? Bingo. The next thing I knew I was exchanging emails with a chap named Dr Savu of Pitesti and within a week I was on a flight to Bucharest. Well actually first I flew to Atlanta and then NYC because we had some free flights from this Wendys promo when we rummaged through the trash but anyway that’s another story.
The flight to Romania was with Hungarian airline Malev. I read online beforehand that Malev had been voted Eastern Europes best airline with the highest levels of customer service. The thing that was refreshing about it was that the customer service wasn’t all that great. If you asked for an extra drink they tried to force a smile but it was insincere but so much better than the fake “Have a nice day” BS I am used to in the USA. Of course someone is going to be pissed off if you keep asking for extra drinks on the plane and nothing is more insulting than people pretending they’re happy to be at your beck and call when they’re not. These Hungarians were as nice as you could be without being false. That’s all I can ask for. That aside the food was delicious. It didn’t even taste like airplane food it was as if Gordon Ramsey had just whipped it up in a full service restaurant. The best thing about the flight was that I was sat next to a deaf Israeli girl who could only talk Hebrew. This allowed me to be completely anti social for the whole 9 hour flight. I hate small talk so this was bliss.
It was quite an awe inspiring moment when the clouds that had obscured our view from NYC to Europe finally dispersed just as the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania came into view. I had never realised that Romania had so many spectacular looking mountains or for that matter so much snow. I didn’t get long to appreciate the view before the pilot began his descent and next thing I knew we were unloading at Bucharest airport. The first thing we saw on exiting the plane was a hug sign that said “EU policy allows No smoking in the airport.” Standing immediately in front of the sign were three passport control agents all of whom were smoking. “I like the attitude of these people” I thought to myself. I let some “0% commission” exchange bureau completely rip me off and then as the crowds dispersed I saw a young woman holding a sign across the lobby. It said “Dr Savu”. This was it. I had come this far and now there was no turning back. I was about to put my life into the hands of two complete starngers. This girl and her buddy who looked like count Dracula. My Romanian odyseey was about to begin.