- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 9, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

With the exception of "taxes" and "John Aschcroft", few words in my language carry the same dread as: "root canal".

For the purposes of our Armenian readers, let me try to convey the simple definition of this dental procedure: "Shat, shat, shat vat. Shat."

Which is why when Dr. Setrag said the words last week my armpits became fountains and my toes voluntarily curled like little fetuses. He said I need four. (Shat. Or a similar word.)

I suffer from a widespread but rarely confessed by grown men disorder known as "Severe Hypoacute Ortho Omnipresent Traumatic Maladjusted Egophobia".

SHOOTME victims suffer from intense dread of dentists. Which is why I'm meeting Dr. Setrag for the first time, though in my third year as a resident here.

I go to the dentist like I go to church. That is to say, when something is horribly wrong. (Funerals. Root canals.) Look at my fresh file in the New Image Dental clinic for alarming proof of the consequence: extractions, crowns, plates, pins, screws . . . The doc even suggested breaking my jaw and starting over on an underbite that he finds most fascinating.

I was enjoying the traditional Easter meal of fish and rice when a four-tooth bridge I've had since childhood let go right into the traditional meal, causing considerable pain and great need to quickly learn how to say "If I pass out, please don't think it's the food".

The next day I met Dr. Setrag. I'll be seeing him regularly for the next six months.

As a SHOOTME sufferer, I've not gone out of the way to learn much about dentistry in Armenia. But I have frequently passed pedestrians holding cloths over their grimacing faces as they left a building with a big tooth marking the location as a torture chamber.

I was not eager to learn first hand how the science is practiced in a country where suffering is considered nobility.

But I'm very pleased to report that New Image Dental is not your grandfather's "atamnabuzharan".

What I walked into could have been a spa, with the large exception that there are sharp objects and instruments that make the distinct sound of metal boring through enamel.

On a street where 40-year old grease paints the walls of a nearby "peraski" stand, you could eat off the floor of the dental clinic (which I would prefer to the purpose of my being there).

It is the creation of California Armenian dentists and looks like someone plucked it from Sunset Boulevard and plunked it right here on Yegishe Koghbatsi Street.

I am supine on a spotless leather reclining chair when a nurse puts a pair of amber tinted glasses over my eyes to shield the bright light (and presumably to make me think everything is rosy). The doc swabs something gelatinous over my gums and I don't even feel the needle when it finds its target.

Moments later my mouth is a tool box of dental surgery this and that. There's a clamp over the infirmed incisor, and a gadget holding a strip of rubber that stretches over my tongue like a trampoline, a thick rubber gasket placed between my jaw to keep it open without any effort from me.

It is far from images you might conjure when connecting Armenia with oral surgery. It is likely that I was hallucinating, but I could swear I even heard classical music coming out of the chair.

Part of my phobia includes a dentist's insistence on a play-by-play of any procedure. When I've been forced into a chair in the States, invariably the dentist would say things like: "Now, John, we're going to saw through the anterior maleculal and penetrate the subandescresent, then suture the hypothoratical to the post-nasal epimandula."

As if:

A. I wanted to know.
B. I could understand a single word of it.

You find that disquieting too? Here's a tip: Get your dental work done in a country where you don't speak the language. (Though Dr. Setrag is fluent in English, he spared me.)

You're wondering the price. Frankly, most people here unfortunately can't afford the clinic. But I can tell you that six months from now I'll have fixed five years of neglect for less than one cost of dental insurance in the States.

In fact, I'm thinking of hooking up with the doc to start a new travel company. According to my figures, Diaspora in, say, Fresno, could fly to Yerevan for two weeks in a good hotel, get a complete oral overhaul, see the relatives, tour the country and go home having spent less that what a single major procedure would cost in the West. The balance could be paid into a fund to finance the medical service for those here who can't afford it.

I think it could work. But perhaps my brain is still swollen from Novocain.


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Day of Remembrance

May 9 is Victory Day, when Armenia remembers its war veterans with ceremonies that include laying carnations and standing in formation near the Eternal Flame above Yerevan.



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