An Unexpected UK Adventure

We have lots of adventure, and most of the time it’s enjoyable. Of course, not all adventures are fun. Like the time I spent the end of an already crappy birthday in an emergency room in Australia.

While in Honduras, I had the adventure of seeing a local dentist. She turned out to be quite the hack, and I was left with just half of a tooth above the gum line. She recommended I go to the mainland and see an endodontist saying that I wouldn’t last more than a month without problems from the tooth.

Well, since the tooth didn’t have any major problems until she got a hold of it, I decided to wait. And for over 2 years I’ve had no problem from that tooth. In the back of my mind I knew I should do something about it. I know that decay in a tooth can bring nasty stuff to the heart, but, well I’m not a fan of going to the dentist.

Like I’m alone in that, right?


I considered getting it taken care of while in SE Asia. They have good dentistry and are inexpensive. I had already decided to have it extracted since the decay was below the gum line which I know really drops the potential for success of a root canal.

And I’ve seen and heard enough about root canals to know that just wasn’t going to be the road I went down.

Again I considered it in Czech, but it wasn’t bothering me. So why mess with what isn’t broken, right? OK, fine. Yes, I was just too chicken to get it done.

Knowing that we would soon be back in Mexico, I decided I’d get it addressed then. Nothing like putting off stuff we really don’t want to do.

But the tooth had a different plan.

A few days ago it began hurting. I hoped it would magically stop and wait until we were in Mexico. The UK isn’t exactly known for being inexpensive after all. But I had no such luck. The next day the pain came on with a fury, and I began phoning dentists.

“Sorry, but if you aren’t in the NHS (the national health service), we can’t see you.” Do you know an office who will take me? “Try the Internet.”

Oh so helpful! I did try the Internet, but they don’t exactly advertise “If you don’t have the NHS, you’re still welcome here!”

One office suggested I phone 111, which is the NHS help line. They asked a bunch of questions before giving me a number for an emergency dentist. Finally, I was going to get some help!

At least that’s what I thought until I rang them. “They don’t start referrals until half past 6.” Great. I had another 4-1/2 hours to go before I could find out if I could get in somewhere. I decided to call other dentists. I finally found a few who would see me as a new patient, but not until the next day.


Most of the staff I spoke with were completely apathetic. One, however, really went out of her way to try to get me in. We set up an appointment for the first thing in the morning. If I was lucky enough to get in elsewhere, I could just leave them a voicemail.

When half past 6 came, I phoned the emergency line. And no one answered. It would take 20 minutes before someone finally picked up. Only to tell me they had nothing for me until the morning. It was hard to not be surly at this point.

The appointment at the helpful place (St. Saviourgate Dental Practice) was before the buses started running. The idea of driving in an unfamiliar town while doped up on pain meds didn’t appeal to me. Thankfully, I was able to get a lovely neighbor to drive me into town on his way to the rail station.

Adventure in York

So what was the UK dentist like? Well, when I got there they once again apologized they couldn’t see me the day before. I was escorted to a very comfortable lounge and offered a tea or coffee while I waited. The dentist introduced himself by his first name and sat down to hear my story.

The x-ray revealed what I had already figured out—I had an abscess. That always make numbing a tooth challenging. He wasn’t deterred, though. He did a thorough blocking of nerves, and when I was mostly numb, he injected around and inside the tooth. He was so good that I didn’t even realize the extraction was completed until he told me so. I hadn’t felt a thing other than slight pressure. PHEW!

I made sure to tell him how good the experience was. If only they were all like him!

They don’t seem to medicate for pain as much as we do in the States, though. I was told to take Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain, and in the US we always gave our extraction patients something with codeine or such. Needless to say, ibuprofen wasn’t enough for the postoperative pain, but the next day things were feeling a lot better.

How much did it cost? It came out to $232 USD. Ouch! But the care was excellent, and since it was an emergency visit for a new patient I can’t complain too much.

The biggest part of the adventure was just finding someone who would see me! I hadn’t expected to need hours of phone calls to find an office that would take me. My Brit friends said, “There’s a reason we have a reputation for having bad teeth.”


Have you had a health adventure while traveling? How did it go?

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  1. Oh dear! Well if it’s any consolation, most UK peeps end up with a private dentist because often to even get on the registrar of one who does NHS work takes six months & even then you still have to pay, although most treatment is generally discounted. Great blog BTW- keep up the good work!

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  2. Oh the tales of a traveler – these are the things no one thinks about when they dream about sustained travel. It sounds like quite the ordeal, although luckily now taken care of. Glad to hear you are on the mend 🙂

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    • Definitely one of the things that proves long-term travel is not the same as holiday travel. 😀

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  3. That price doesn’t seem too bad or maybe Australia is just expensive. Who am I kidding? Australia IS expensive. I was cringing through the whole post at the thought of having my wisdom teeth removed a few years ago, glad to hear you didn’t experience too much pain!

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    • Interestingly enough, having a tooth extraction in the UK was more expensive than my 7-plus-hour ER visit in Australia.

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  4. I had exactly the same thing when visiting UK once, and even being British didn’t help, since I’m not resident there. Trouble was it was over a weekend, and I had to dope myself up as best I could until Monday, when I found a dentist who managed to squeeze me in. That was a few years back now, and my dad tells me it has gotten far worse. Where he lives there are no NHS dentists, they are all private practise. That may not sound so strange to an American, but it certainly isn’t the low cost dental health care I grew up with, and I shudder to think how the unemployed manage.

    At least when it happened to me again in Spain this time I was able to get a shot in the ER free, which tided me over until I could see the dentist the following day. After the extraction this dentist put in a bridge, which ….. coincidentally, came out just a couple of weeks back when I was on another island. I spotted a dentist on the main street of the small town I was in, and explained my problem, they said “No worries. If I could wait about 20 minutes the dentist would see me.” They had a kind of ER, a dentist on standby just for emergencies. Within a half hour I was out of there, bridge replaced, in disbelief! $137 lighter mind you, for ten minutes to stick the thing back in!

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  5. Talon had a similar issue with my back in Ecuador several years ago. I have had 5 surgeries on my back and I was out of pain meds. I finally (after starting withdrawals) had a friend get me to a hospital where he had connections. I saw the doctor and he wrote me a script. Problem solved right? Hell no! When I filled it at the hospital farmacia they charged me $10 a pill stating they don’t believe in this type of medicine. Really? What do people do, just suffer? I had to leave early as the quantity was only good enough to last a couple of weeks. Bummed, pissed and worn out I came home and saw my Doctor. Believe me I make sure now that I take what is needed with me if I am going through one of my pain cycles. I also research the availability of meds before I travel just in case. Sorry you didn’t handle in Asia and sorry you had such a hack. On the other side of the coin Ecuador has great dentists at very low costs. Safe travels and enjoy Mexico amigo.

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    • That’s just crazy! Yeah, I should’ve handled it in SE Asia, or when I was back in Mexico, or even in Honduras which actually has really good dentists normally. Live and learn, right?

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  6. Ouch! I feel your pain Talon, just READING about it. I too am less than keen on dentists, but glad you were able to get it taken care of (and btw, seems to me $232 for an extraction is a bargain compared to the States).

    As a side note – like you, I too had a sudden serious toothache – just DAYS before I was set to fly (one way) to Vietnam from Seattle 3 years ago. So I headed to the dentist, and… when they said a root canal would take A. a week, and B. even then would be iffy, I unhesitatingly replied: “Oh, just PULL the silly thing!” I mean, when it comes to travel, you just gotta do what you gotta do, yes? 😉

    P.S. btw, in Saigon (at a dentist clinic as nice/modern as any in Seattle), I also had a complete set of ex-rays done, plus a cleaning, plus a small porcelain filling for… $20 total (the ex-ray was – wait for it – a whole $1!)

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    • In the States, I had dental insurance so have no idea how much they normally charge. It seemed reasonable to me, though, considering the cost of things around here.

      Fabulous prices in Saigon!

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  7. I guess more people go to dentists in the UK than pundits would have us believe- or there are way less dentists. I always think dental care in the USA is expensive- but that sounds like a lot unless it was actual dental surgery rather than a simple extraction. Hope you’re out of pain and on the mend.

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    • There are lots of dentists, but many of them are private. If you’re on NHS, you get to have a long wait apparently. For low income people, it’s apparently free.

      Nope, this was just a simple extraction, although they did have to use a LOT of anesthetic. But it’s a private dentist, and I was a new patient being seen as an emergency, so I think it was reasonable considering the circumstances.

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