Io Bisogno una Dentista I need a Dentist

Getting from airport to downtown is as simple as pie in Bari, AND I remember how to get to my hotel. Since the day is shot I just plan to settle in and have some dinner and start figuring out the dentist thing. I mention my requirement to the night desk clerk. His response, “In Bari??!!”, with the implied, “are you kidding, in this dump of a city” could have been off putting to someone new to town. However, Bari is a million and a half people, the second largest port in Italy and a commercial center. I felt sure that a dentist would be able to be found. His recommendation was that I visit the hospital, they had a clinic there. Something told me to just wait til the day shift showed up and see what that produced.

Yelp works in Italy I discovered, so I surveyed my choices and settled on a particular dentist, with some level of confidence.  Of course, I also did my medical research online as well about broken teeth and what one might do about it. My particular concern is that I was about 3 days into a 5 week journey and a patch may not be the best solution.  The folks at the Adria Hotel made the call for me in the morning, which was a blessing, since they have at least tourist English and I was able to explain my problem (I have only enough Italian to keep myself out of prison, which is often not enough for everyday life). The dentist could see me that day for a xrays and a look-see, yippee!

I have to admit here that I am a dentophob. Mock me if you must, I don’t like to go and I don’t go often so I don’t know what the modern Alaskan dental office looks like these days, but I now have a very good idea about Italian dentistry. Of course, check in and sit and wait, that’s standard. When it was my turn to go in I had to do the bootie thing. SInce one or two others were before me I got to see the procedure from a distance. You approach a machine that looks a little like a mini treadmill with a handle for gripping. Standing in front of this contraption you insert your foot in a plastic lined rectangular hole and then pull back your foot. Your foot emerges in a blue plastic bootie! You do them both and only then can you enter the inner sanctum of dentistry.

On a side note, at one point a young man came in with a box of booties and reloaded the machine and then left. I saw this as the equivalent of someone loading a printer cartridge for you. It seemed odd that the staff didn’t simply do that task.  It would be in keeping with the detailed division of labor I have seen in this country over time.  I suppose it is to continue to have enough work for people, but I am only guessing. Like union workers, you don’t overlap, you do your  job, they do theirs. It is similar with small shops. If you sell tobacco, then there are certain approved items you can sell, but you can’t just add pens and pencils or throw in some vitamin C tablets for convenience to the customer, that is the purview of the stationery store and the Famicia.

Two lovely ladies got me xrayed, poked and evaluated and the happy result of that was the assessment that it could be patched the next day and off I go on my Abruzzo adventure. 🙂 Not one word of English spoken the entire time.

So, imagine my disappointment when the dentist had a look the next afternoon and he pronounced it broken and a root canal was required. The news is bad enough, but getting the news was real work. Since dentists probably don’t see many foreigner in their regular practice, learning English is not on the top of their list. Soooooo, trying to understand his rapid fire Italian and make sense of any of the words he was using was very disconcerting. I mean there was NO baking or cooking terminology for me to hook into, no tourist Italian, only technical, full strength, full speed dental-speak, at which point he stopped talking and looked to me for a response. I am sure I had a deer-in-the-headlines expression on my face because he launched into a further explanation which may have been the same exact words or a recitation of the Martian alphabet. I have no idea. At this point it was clear to both of us we were stuck. The assistant came over to assist in the explanation. Using, no doubt less technical language, she re-explained the issue.  No English, no comprehension.  Finally the Dr. resorted to sign language and wagging his two index fingers as though they were walking along the strada I asked- Roto?? (Broken?) Yes!

After that he added pantomime to the Italian and I could determine that a patch was not going to be the answer- whatever was the answer still eluded me no matter how many times he repeated it.  Eventually, I turned to the x-ray hanging near my head and pointed to a tooth on the opposite side of my mouth asking if it was this. No, no he shook his head the other side. I hung in with the tooth in question because I wanted to know if it was the procedure he was telling me – root canal, and that tooth had a clear one going on.  Eventually we connected on the x-ray and both were clear – root canal!  Yeah, I got it! Wait, what, a root canal? Holy Crow I wonder what that is going to cost – and I remember my last root canal about 40 years ago, awful experience.  And, he didn’t do the work, another specialist did. I had to come back another day. Things were getting worse by the minute. How long was I going to be in Bari I wondered.  I traipsed out to the front desk – where they also spoke no English.

The endodontist only came in on certain days and those days were Wednesday or Friday of next week. It was Friday today.  Then there would be another appointment after that, one week later.  My head was spinning, my plans were crumbling and I was having to now determine if I wanted to put myself in the hands of a foreign dentist with only Italian Yelp reviews to guide.  Most of my brain capacity was trying to figure out how the heck this was going to work and only enough remained present to try and communicate that I had friends coming from Alaska and landing in Rome by then. Eventually, one of the ladies picked up the phone and called somebody. They had a brief discussion and she returned to our conversation to say the endodontist would be willing to come in on Monday for me.

I was extremely grateful and simultaneous gut-punched, a strange mix of emotions. We settled on a time, the total cost was 700 euro, and I knew it was time for a coffee. I left the office and wandered down the street in search of a cafe and then looked down to discover I was walking in my blue plastic booties.  That sort of snapped me out of my funk a bit and I retraced my steps, deposited the booties at the dental office trash and got on with it.


The coffee didn’t change my mood, neither did the pasticiotti I ate, but I returned to my hotel room, took some deep breaths and asked myself what I had to be grateful for. The list was long, including that these people were so helpful, I was in a big city, I had room on my credit card to pay, I have dental insurance that might cover it, I had time before my friends arrived and a root canal is not the worst thing in the world by a long shot, and they weren’t suggesting an extraction, just to name a few. Gratitude changed everything.

When the day came the procedure was so quick and painless I was surprised it was over. They made a mold and I will return for a temporary, but likely not the ceramic final, since 2 additional appointments are required for fitting and one week apart for each. I just don’t know how I could manage it. For now, stress I didn’t know I had is gone and I am ready for the next town.


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One Response to Io Bisogno una Dentista I need a Dentist

  1. Linda Anderson says:

    Yikes! An attitude of gratitude sure does help!!

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