How To Get Your Teeth Cleaned In Italy And Be Traumatized FOREVER


As much as I love being self-employed, there are definitely some downsides. I miss those paid vacation days, and Christmas bonuses, but most importantly I really, really miss having health insurance.

You see our current US healthcare system is majorly messed up. Majorly. At this point it’s far safer and cheaper for Mike and I to live outside of the United States and purchase medical services as we need them than to live in our own country and pay out the nose for freelance health insurance (or worse: not have insurance and risk bankruptcy over a broken arm).

I could rant on about this, but I’ll spare you guys.

Fortunately up to this point we’ve been pretty healthy (knock on wood), but we couldn’t ignore the fact that we really, really needed a teeth cleaning. We’re pretty paranoid about dental health and brush, floss and mouthwash daily, but at some point you need to get a specialist in there. After a few calls around the DC area we learned that pretty much all local dentists require expensive xrays for first time clients, meaning that this simple maintenance procedure would run us hundreds of dollars. Not really in the budget right now.

Then I had a (seemingly) brilliant idea! Why not get our teeth cleaned while we were in Rome in February? It had to be cheaper than the US.

It was a terrible idea. Cheaper yes, but oh did we pay. But just in case you are a masochist too, here is how to get your teeth cleaned in Rome:

1. Through a simple Google search, find a dental office that caters specifically to expats in Rome. The speak english! How bad could this be? 50 Euros for a teeth cleaning (versus $300+) at home is too good to resist. Call and make an appointment.

2. Arrive at the office, a basement apartment in a dark sketchy neighborhood, at 6:30 PM on a Friday night. Nervously joke about Saw movies but ring the bell anyways. Be greeted by the dentist, a warm Indian-Italian woman wearing scrubs. Downstairs find a bright and inviting waiting room, except for this:

3. Nervously flip through British Cosmo while the dentist (we’ll now refer to her as Dr. Doom), finishes up with her previous patient. Whatever procedure he’s having seems to involve a lot of yelling in Italian and some crashing sounds. Tell Mike he’s definitely going first.

4. Dr. Doom apologizes, her assistant is pregnant which apparently means she doesn’t have to work for nine months. Doom’s doing everything on her own. We nod understandingly. Mike disappears into the back room, where I can still hear every excruciating detail. Dr. Doom goes through his admission forms asking many medically relevant questions like:“Is your family Italian?”“You do web design, can you fix my website?”

“Your girlfriend is a writer??”

Finally around 7:15 she appears ready to start the cleaning.

5. Am jolted out of my chair by a screech of (I kid you not) “MAMMA MIA! Look at these teeth!”

6. “Hey Writer, get back here!” I wander into the examination room where the cleaning has still not started. Since her assistant is out she wants me to help her take a picture of Mike’s teeth by using terrifying mouth clamps to keep his mouth pried open while she fiddles with her camera.I hold the mouth clamps in position, stretching Mike’s poor cheeks. “Wider! Wider!” she yells at me. I start to feel like I’m in a Stanley Milgram experiment but finally she gets her photo. She forces the both of us to look at huge blown-up photos of the plaque on Mike’s teeth. It’s…uncomfortably intimate. She tells us that we clearly don’t know how to floss, and need to attend her very special Flossing School: Just four sessions at 40 Euros a class! What a bargain.

7. I beg to go back to the waiting room while Mike’s teeth cleaning continues with much ranting rising over the sounds of drilling. Not too sure what’s going on until I hear Mike begging for novocaine. Novocaine for a teeth cleaning? What a wimp I think. She finally gives it to him after charging him an extra 17 euros for the shot.

8. All of a sudden the office is filled with the sound of dogs barking. A whole hungry pack of them! Dr. Doom drops everything and rushes into another room. I sneak in to visit Mike who is still sitting in the chair, half done, with blood on his bib. “What is she doing to you?” He just shrugs.

9. Finally it’s my turn. By now it’s past 8 PM and my anxiety is only superseded by the fact that I am starving. I sit down in the chair, but instead of opening my mouth Dr. Doom bustles about, showing me pictures of her 5 dachshunds, telling me how she needs to find a “new husband,” and just generally chit chatting. I fight the urge to scream.

10. Finally she gets to work on my teeth… at which point I start to regret all the life choices that lead me to this point. I am no dentist, I don’t know what exactly she was doing in my mouth, only that it felt like no cleaning I’d ever sat through and man did it HURT. Her powerbrush feels like it was going to knock my teeth straight out of my head as it whirs and screeches.Now here is where it get’s gross: As Dr. Doom grinds my teeth and babbles on about Berlusconi (“I love him! I mean, I know he was caught with those women, but at least they were WOMEN, am I right?”), my mouth starts to fill with blood. A LOT of blood. “Ack! So much blood!” she exclaims, wiping at my mouth, “It’s like a horror movie here.” I nod meekly. Blood is basically overflowing out of my mouth and down my chin.5 agonizing minutes later: “There’s too much blood, I can’t see what I’m doing- I guess you are done!” she announces finally as I try not to cry. She releases me and wanders off to check on her dogs.

11. We pay, skillfully evade a second pitch for Flossing School and book it out of there as fast as possible.At this point Mike and I can only look at each other in complete and utter horror. “You have blood on your forehead,” he whispers, eyes like saucers. It’s now 9:30 at night and we are dying of hunger so we make a bee line to our favorite neighborhood restaurant for heaping plates of pasta carbonara.

Two days later my teeth STILL hurt (that’s normal right?). I’ve had my teeth cleaned at least once a year for most of my life and I’ve never experiences what ever that was. Pretty sure my next trip to the dentist is going to have to involve heavy sedatives.

I still do think medical tourism is a viable option, you just have to choose your destination carefully. Mike got a cavity filled in Thailand and found it a very pleasant and cheap experience. When it comes to health care I wouldn’t say it’s you get what you pay for, maybe you get WHERE you pay for.

All I know is I’m never doing THAT again.