| With the exception
of "taxes" and "John Aschcroft",
few words in my language carry the same dread as:
For the purposes of our Armenian readers, let
me try to convey the simple definition of this
dental procedure: "Shat, shat, shat vat.
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
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
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
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."
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.