Some of the young Cambodians I encounter are enduring braces in a country where orthodonture and cosmetic repairs are a decided luxury.
Those fortunate Cambodians tend to be the ones who work in the service industry — the ones I see most often close up — and likely have come from families that may be poor but not dirt poor. They usually are graduates of a university or still are acquiring higher education. Some are offspring of astoundingly wealthy parents who make up the minuscule elite class.
With respect to individuals without resources — and that is the overwhelming majority of the population — bad teeth is a visible way of life, especially among much older Cambodians. Their teeth may well be obviously rotten or missing altogether, and of course you can find such impoverished individuals elsewhere.
When I consider the pain of even a mild toothache and my ability to have it treated, I can only imagine the suffering so many Cambodians bear until a bad tooth is filled, extracted or drops out. The cost of root canals or even basic dental care surely exceeds the barebones budgets of the multitude. What they worry about is where the money will come for their next meal. A perfect smile is not even on their list of desires.
Many expats in Phnom Penh favor the sleek Roomchang Dental Hospital, which is more polished and professional than many local clinics. From what I know, they do a reliably good job, and the prices pale in comparison with a comprehensive range of services with what New Yorkers, among others, pay for care in the U.S.
I have my teeth cleaned and a cavity filled for a relative song from another dental practice; it is owned by a French dentist and is well regarded by expats. My semi-annual cleanings run me all of $40, and a bitewing x-ray is a mere $5.
I am privileged to have such an option. Few Cambodian are similarly lucky. I can’t say that I know how they deal with dental issues. Although we may regret the expense and fear the discomfort of obtaining treatment, at least we usually can have our teeth repaired and saved.
It would be nice for me to avoid making light of the plight of most Cambodians, but I can’t stop myself from saying that I feel their pain. Sorry.