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Jul 20 2010

Sometimes Sweden still surprises me

Here in Vikingland, July is sometimes referred to as "rötmånad", which literally means "rotting month." Tradition has it that it's so-named because perishable food goes bad more quickly in the warmer temperatures. (And boy have they been warm lately.)

But many immigrants and visitors to Sweden might think it refers to what happens to people waiting for various services when 70% of the country's workforce is on vacation. Okay, that might be an exaggeration…but only a slight one. And it's not just businesses that reduce hours (or remarkably, close altogether for a FULL month), but also government services like health care. Seriously, some rural hospitals are so routinely short-staffed from late June to early August that women will plan their pregnancies to avoid delivering in that window.

Which is why I totally panicked on Sunday afternoon when I stupidly sunk my teeth into one of my favorite caramel apple lollipops and pulled an old porcelain repair off the backside of one of my incisors. Now I need to mention at this point that I don't have a regular dentist in Malmö because I'm in the US at least once a year and always see my old dentist when I'm there. (Because dental services in Sweden are not government-subsidized at the same level as medical care, the cost of a routine visit is about the same in both countries.)

So we rang Dr. Darling's dentist, who happens to be a private practitioner rather than one who is part of the government health care system. He was, of course, on vacation until August 9…but his answering service helpfully left the number for patients to call in emergencies. Now my situation wasn't exactly an emergency…I wasn't in any pain, but I was concerned about damaging the tooth if it wasn't taken care of fairly quickly.

Suddenly the Swede and I were having flashbacks to the only other time I've needed to see a dentist here…ironically also during the summer…several years ago when we were living in Limhamn. I had a crown that was bothering me and by the time I got in to see the emergency stand-by dentist located on the opposite side of the city (a challenge when you're on a bike, fairly new in town and don't speak much Swedish yet), the pain had gone away and she could find nothing wrong with it.

This time there was no way the problem wasn't going to go away on its own, so Dr. Darling came up with a list of four different dental services for me to try contacting on Monday morning, two private and two public, including the government-run dental clinic right around the corner from The Penthouse-Nordic. As far as I can tell, there's very little difference in the cost between public and private…only in how quickly you can get an appointment and whether or not you get to see the same dentist every time you visit. (I invite any Swede who is reading this to correct me if I'm wrong about that.)

So after a relatively sleepless night fretting about it and feeling the gaping gorge on the backside of the incisor with my tongue, I began calling as soon as the phone hours began (conveniently staggered at 7:30, 8 and 8:30). Both the private services said I was essentially S-O-L because I was not currently a patient with a private practitioner in Sweden. That left the public dental services…and what I anticipated to be several days of a semi-liquid diet and very little sleep.

I tried the one in my neighborhood first…primarily because their calling hours started earlier. The clerk was not comfortable speaking English with me, which I had requested because I just don't have the Swedish vocabulary to describe my dental problem. In the end it didn't matter, because she said I had to call the emergency number anyway. (THAT part I definitely understood.)

About 25 minutes later I was on the phone with the dental emergency person who was happy to speak English with me. She explained that while there were definitely fewer dentists working due to vacation season, each of the six dental clinics in the city reserved a slot or two each day for people with acute needs (like me) and would I like an appointment at my neighborhood clinic at 10:30? WOULD I?!

And so, despite my worst fears, I was in a dentist's chair around the corner from our apartment less than three hours after I made my initial phone call, and less than 24 hours after the run in with the caramel apple sucker. Both the dentist (who introduced himself by his first name in typical Swedish fashion) and his assistant were super nice and happy to speak English with me. The facilities were immaculately clean, modern and outfitted with all the latest dental care technology.

Twenty-minutes and 975 SEK later (about 132 USD at today's exchange rate), my tooth was as good as new. I sincerely doubt I could have gotten any better service in US hometown from the dentist who has been looking after my mouth since I was 10-years-old. And Dr. Bayley is THE BEST.

But he's also due to retire soon, so it's good to know that Anders is waiting in the wings.

Feed my ego!

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