How to say “I have a cavity” in Ukrainian*

Of all the chairs it’s possible to find one’s self in, the dentist’s is possibly the worst.

Ok, on second thought the electric chair likely gets that title… but you get my drift.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the dentist exactly, I go willingly enough, but I do so with the knowledge that this is just one of those trips in life that one has to take, or suffer the consequences with teeth bared.

So it is that a Tuesday morning at 9 am finds me sitting in the infamous chair awaiting that cruel thing called a “cleaning”. My mind is working at full speed taking in the various medieval instruments on the tray in front of me. I’m not usually this attentive to detail at the dentist’s, but when in Ukraine it’s a whole other matter.

Ukrainian dentistry. Perhaps the only two words in the English language I find more chilling are “chemical castration”. Who knows, perhaps in Ukraine that can come as a package deal. Nevertheless, the dentist seems nice enough. She’s already smiled more in 5 minutes than most Ukrainians manage in a year. Then again, smiling is likely something that dentists everywhere do. After all, they are in the “smiling” business.

One thing the dentist’s chair is good for is thinking. True, I do have to get past the immediate reality that someone is scraping away inside my mouth with some kind of hooked tool, but Sixpence None The Richer provides me with the diversion I need.

Yes, 90’s one-hit wonder Sixpence None The Richer comes on the office radio with their aforementioned former number one hit, “Kiss Me.” I remember the song quite well. My uncle had even gone so far as to buy me the single on cassette tape (cassette tape!) when it came out back in 1997. This hadn’t struck me as particularly strange at the time but now that I think about it…

My conservative Christian parents didn’t allow secular music in the house but, as Sixpence None The Richer’s album was offered for sale at the local Christian bookstore, I was allowed to keep it. Lucky me. I’m still not quite clear on what religious significance a song about a girl wanting to be kissed holds but so long as they were marketing god’s way, it was the Christian equivalent of kosher.

Back in my immediate reality I notice that my dentist has donned safety glasses. Safety from what? Why, from the tartar-flecked water splashing from my mouth of course! A hooked tube had been inserted over my cheek to spray the water into my mouth. The water flow itself leaves something to be desired as half of it seems to run back down the outside of the tube and down my neck. Coupled with the fact that I have no safety googles, I’m left dabbing at my cheeks and forehead with tissues like an overfed mafia boss with a heart condition. 

With various other tubes and wires stretched out around me, I imagine the possible ways one might die in this chair. To my horror, I quickly lose count.

What kind of a person do you have to be to even want to become a dentist? Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful for such people – particularly as I lack all the necessary traits one would have to have to work in dentistry – but I find it hard to believe that anyone would have such traits. A healthy fascination with teeth (or a fascination with healthy teeth?) would seem to be mandatory but without the revulsion that nasty teeth would compel in the ordinary individual. And god knows how many horrible cases of bad breath they’ve had to deal with!

Have you ever made eye contact with the dentist as you’re lying back in that most vulnerable of vulnerable positions? Lifeless. Perhaps dentists, due to the oral horrors they’ve seen, are simply desensitized to it all and have a tendency to view you as just another mouth – while you’re in their chair at least. The moment you get up they are, by and large, some of the friendliest people one can encounter. Due again, perhaps, to the whole “smiling” business.

Do dentists get together to swap stories like old combat vets of the things they’ve seen inside people’s mouths? 

What would it be like to date a dentist? When you asked him or her to tell you about their day would they recount a story of a botched root canal? And you could never take advantage of your relationship to get free dental work done. Imagine your lover getting an up close and personal look at the inside of your mouth while you’re just sitting there, trapped in that chair. They say that having sex for the first time changes the relationship. Forget it. After she’s seen your cavities and gum erosion, things really won’t be the same.

I like to think I have a healthy obsession with nice teeth. When I was younger and was asked what it was about the opposite sex that most attracted me, nice teeth were always at the top of the list. If teeth are so perfect as to seem fake or are brown, gold, or anything that isn’t a lighter shade of white, I find it equally difficult to draw my eyes away from them when in conversation. And kissing someone with bad teeth? The stuff of nightmares!

Finally, after an hour, I am allowed to leave the chair. My teeth are healthy, I am told in very broken English, but “naked”… whatever that means. I am prescribed a special toothpaste and given the dentist’s number to dial, just in case.

Ah yes, the closest relationship one can have in life just might be between you and your dentist, from whom there are no secrets.

*У мене порожнина в зубі



  1. Thanks! I don’t know when I’ll be writing, since I’m not traveling at the moment, but I will jot down some Kazakhstan horror stories when my friends there have left for other countries. I’m really enjoying your posts. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

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