What to do when you get a toothache in Japan

Dentist in Japanese

During our year-long trip around the world, we spent one month in Japan. We visited seven cities during our time there and learned a lot about the country, the people, and the food. And how to deal with dental emergencies. When Justin found himself suffering from severe tooth pain, we figured out how to handle our first long-term travel medical situation and specifically what to do when you get a toothache in Japan.

1. Ignore pain for a day or so per standard operating procedure.

2. Find step 1 untenable and turn to the nearest pharmacy. Using Google Translate and a handy chart behind the counter, indicate “tooth pain” and receive what surely must be a topical pain-reliever. Open box and realize you’ve received a weak form of aspirin.

3. Seek superior solution at 7/11. Obtain cheap alcohol and use to numb liberally based on the previous advice of a NYC oral surgeon.

4. Try to be a tough guy and eat ramen for dinner because you’re in Japan and ramen is to be eaten always. Regret this on first spoonful. (Eat it all anyway.)

5. Upon coming to terms with the fact that this is not a temporary situation, begin to have overly dramatic but serious existential dread about pain, life, and travel.

6. While you try to be zen, your wonderful wife tries to find an English-speaking dentist in Kanazawa. She fails. You both consider the irony that only 2 days earlier you were in Tokyo, where there are many.

Seriously, if you’re looking for an English-speaking dentist in Tokyo, click here or here (or just type that phrase into Google and be amazed at the number of results).

7. But she is successful in finding one in your next destination, Kyoto.** Both become amazed that not only do they respond to her email inquiry immediately, but that they can fit you in soon after you arrive.

8. Try to relax, thinking to yourself how fortunate you are that this happened in mega-advanced Japan instead of elsewhere. Google “dental care in Japan” just to be safe. Realize this was a terrible idea as you sit awake in pain reading horror stories. Revert to crisis mode.

9. Arrive at the dentist nervous that they will give you a root canal without anesthesia in a dirty room with other patients (see above).

10. But of course instead have a wonderful, painless and friendly appointment for only $135 (which is fully covered by your travel insurance). It was just a cavity.

**If you happen to find yourself in Kyoto, Japan with tooth pain, we highly recommend Nakai Dental Office

PS – we strongly recommend any long-term traveler buy travel insurance that includes medical coverage!

11 thoughts on “What to do when you get a toothache in Japan

  1. Jean says:

    Ah, that’s exactly what would happen in NYC, right? So happy it worked out and sorry you suffered so. Any need for dental cleanings or appointments upon your return? Just let your personal assistant know so she can make the arrangements.

  2. Shannon Skaife says:

    That was hilarious! (Seriously, sorry you had to have a tooth ache to begin with.) Thanks for the update. I read it aloud to my husband and we both chuckles. Also, we thought somberly, “I guess we should get travel insurance…”

    • Sarah and Justin says:

      Oh I’m so glad you got a good laugh! 🙂 And yes, we are big proponents of travel insurance. Luckily our first use of it was for something relatively benign but you never know!

  3. Donna says:

    Haha oh dear! I am glad you were able to get the help you needed and the appointment went better than you feared. It’s always a worry dealing with things like this when travelling.

  4. Pingback: How To Find The Best International Travel Insurance

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