A New Yorker flew across the Atlantic to China with only one thing on his mind - getting three ceramic teeth installed in his head.
Believe it or not, his trip made perfect economic sense and the American concerned is a smart guy, anyway.
In the United States and most other Western countries, you have to flash US$700 to US$1,000 to buy an average ceramic tooth.
For a better model with precious metal inside the ceramic sheath, you will have to make a dent of about US$2,000 or more in your bank account. The better model is "better" partly because it's lighter in weight and doesn't feel so strange when fixed in your mouth.
But here in Shanghai, the cost is surprisingly low when compared with prices in Western countries. An average tooth in Shanghai costs 700 to 1,000 yuan (US$85-122). Even ones with a core of precious metal seem not as precious as in the West - they cost about 1,000 to 1,400 yuan each, (about US$125-175).
So, after taking the cost of the air tickets from the equation, that New Yorker could still save a big buck without compromising the quality of the services he is to receive.
What lowers the price so sharply in China, according to Song Meng, a chief dentist in Shanghai First People's Hospital, is not the quality of the service or the raw materials used. Most, if not all, ceramic teeth used locally are imported from America, Japan, or Germany. Their quality is as good as you can find anywhere in the world and their durability is just fine.
The root of the low price lies in the nominal fee the dentists in China charge for their second-to-none virtuosity.
Only recently have ceramic teeth come into fashion, especially among the city's white-collar young people, who want to show off their bright smiles without constantly reminding others of the blemishes caused by having a sweet-tooth.
Ceramic teeth satisfy their desire for a natural, attractive and clean look.
Still, artificial substitutes are not without their downside. The wearer gains a good appearance but sacrifices some firmness.
If not installed properly, ceramic teeth can become loose and injure tender gums.
Song cautions that would-be patients should not follow fashion blindly and rush into the operation.
He said ceramic teeth do not cure dental complaints, although they do a wonderful job of mending rotten teeth and restoring a brilliant smile. Installing ceramic teeth remains the last step in a series of treatments.
The dentist must be sure that all bad teeth have been properly treated before putting in the new teeth. To install a ceramic tooth without curing all dental troubles only hides the real problem.
An observation period before any operation to install ceramic teeth is advised. The length of the observation period should be dictated by the individual dentist and can vary according to the condition of different patients.
Song said treatment does not end with the installation of the artificial teeth. Patients should call on their dentists regularly for check-ups after the operation. The teeth can loosen and even drop out. And a loose tooth can cause considerable damage.
(Shanghai Star September 20, 2002)