Thai Language Thai Culture: Dental Office Vocabulary

Thai Language

Dental Office Vocabulary…

We just went to see our dentist. Everything is good with me, but my wife needs lots of work (we blame it on those calcium-sucking children of ours she had to carry around for 9 months and who left her teeth a shambles).

Going to a dentist in Thailand is not a bad experience and since it is inexpensive (except for those English-speaking dentists that carter to the Expat trade and who charge foreign prices) it is a good idea to get checked up frequently. My article Shoeless and Painless Dentistry for Chiang Mai City Life magazine a few years ago describes a trip to the dentist’s office.

Before going for your fun tip to the dentist you might want to brush up on some Dental-Office vocabulary words. Here are some typical tooth-centered words that might help. And below is a dialog that I hope you won’t ever have to use, but as an exercise, it uses most of the vocabulary words in context.

Dentist’s Office Vocabulary…

Tooth: ฟัน /fan/
Dentist: หมอฟัน /mǒr-fan/ (tooth doctor), also ทันตแพทย์ /tan-ta-pâet/, formal (ทันต์ /tan/, Pali for tooth, and แพทย์ /pâet/, Sanskrit for doctor)
Dental Checkup: ตรวจฟัน /dtrùat-fan/ (check, tooth)
X-rays: รังสีเอ็กซ์ /rang-sěe-ék/ (radiation, x), or the loan word เอ็กซ์เรย์ /ék-sà~ray/
Gum: เหงือก /ngèuak/
Root (of a tooth): ราก (ฟัน) /râak/ (/fan/)
Toothache: ปวดฟัน /bpùat-fan/ (ache, tooth)
(Gum) infection: (เหงือก)อักเสบ (/ngèuak/) /àk-sàyp/
Filling (tooth): อุดฟัน /ùt-fan/ (fill in a hole, tooth)
Pull (tooth): ถอนฟัน /tǒn-fan/ (pull or extract, tooth)
Root canal: รักษารากฟัน/rák-sǎa râak-fan/ (take care of, root, tooth)
Dentures (false teeth): ฟันปลอม /fan-bplom/ (tooth, false or counterfeit)
Crown: ครอบฟัน /krôp-fan/ (cover, tooth)
Bridge(work): (ทำ)สะพาน /tam-sà~paan/ (make, bridge)
Dental implant: รากเทียม /rák-tiam/ (root, artificial)
Plaque: คราบหินปูน /krâap-hǐn-bpuun/ (stain/blemish, limestone)
Cleaning (curitage): ขูดหินปูน /kùut hǐn-bpuun/ (scrape, limestome)
Gargle: บ้วนปาก /bûuan-bpàak/ (spit, mouth)

Samantha goes to the dentist…

Sam is going to the dentist. A friend recommends The Chiang Mai Dental Clinic.
Sam จะไปหาหมอฟัน เพื่อนแนะนำคลินิกทันตแพทย์เชียงใหม่
Sam jà bpai hǎa mǒr-fan • pêuan náe-nam klí-ník tan-ta-pâet Chiang Mai

Receptionist: Hello. How can I help you?
สวัสดีค่ะ จะให้รับใช้อะไรคะ
sà-wàt-dee kâ • jà hâi ráp-chái à~rai kâ

Sam: Hi, I have a toothache and need to see the dentist.
หวัดดีค่ะ ฉันปวดฟัน ต้องการพบหมอฟัน
wàt-dee kâ chǎn bpùat-fan • dtông-gaan póp mǒr-fan

Receptionist: Please wait a few minutes.
รอสักครู่ค่ะ
ror sàk kroo kâ

Dentist: What is the problem?
มีปัญหาอะไรค่ะ
mee bpan-hǎa à~rai kâ

Sam: I have a toothache. I might need a filling.
ฉันปวดฟันค่ะ อาจต้องอุดฟัน
chǎn bpùat-fan kâ àat dtông ùt-fan

Dentist: We’ll take some x-rays first and then I’ll take a look.
เราจะถ่ายเอ็กซ์เรย์ก่อน และ จะตรวจฟัน
rao jà tàai ék-sà~ray gôn • láe • dtrùat- fan

After a few minutes…
หลังจากไม่กี่นาที
lǎng-jàak • mâi gèe naa-tee

Dentist: You will need a root canal. You also have a gum infection.
คุณจะต้องรักษารากฟัน คุณก็มีเหงือกอักเสบด้วย
kun jà dtông rák-sǎa râak-fan • kun gôr mee ngèuak àk-sàyp

Sam: Please don’t pull my tooth. I don’t want to have any false teeth.
โปรดอย่าถอนฟัน ไม่อยากมีฟันปลอม
bpròht yàa tǒn-fan • mâi yàak mee fan-bplom/

Dentist: We can save your tooth. But you will need a crown.
เราสามารถเก็บฟันไว้ แต่คุณจะต้องทำครอบฟัน
rao sǎa-mâat gèp fan wái • dtàe kun dtông tam krôp-fan

Sam: Okay, let’s do it.
ตกลงค่ะ เอาเลย
/dtòk-long kâ • ao loie

And may the odds of not needing a root canal be EVER in your favor (with apologies to “The Hunger Games”).

Road Trip Observation…

We just took a nice short road trip to Nan Province. This is a beautiful, quite, and isolated province in the north of Thailand, up near the Laotian border and quite close to Luang Prabang as the crow flies. In my short time there no one spoke to me in Thai. Everyone we encountered, from the market ladies, to the hotel receptionist spoke the local dialect. They understood my Thai but answered in dialect, which gave me lots of trouble understanding them.

My wife Pikun speaks Northern Thai (I understand a bit but never attempt to speak it) and she says that the Nan dialect is quite different from the Northern Thai they speak in Chiang Mai.

This got me to thinking. For those living upcountry, away from the population centers (in the north, Issan, and the south), it must be really difficult to communicate with those using the local dialects. My hat is off to you if you can learn it. But don’t try using it in Bangkok, or in another part of Thailand. No one will understand you. If you learn Central Thai people will be able to understand you but you might not be able to understand them. Good luck.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
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34 Responses to “ Thai Language Thai Culture: Dental Office Vocabulary ”

  1. Thank you for an interesting and useful post! Maybe I should visit a dentist on my next trip to Thailand. :-)

    One thing I heard and found interesting is that the majority of dentists in Thailand are female. Something like 70%. I think that in America it might be about 28%, although all of my dentists have been male. Typically the hygienists who check and clean one’s teeth before the dentist sees you are all female.

    One another note, would ดัดฟัน be the correct term for straightening teeth with braces?

  2. Keith, I do believe you are right about dentist in Thailand being female. I’ve been to several clinics. All women. Rather, giggly girls… most are quite young.

    If you do try out dentists in Bangkok, there are two that are Dental Spas. I’ve only been to one (waiting to try the other before sharing my experiences here).

  3. Keith,

    Good catch. ดัดฟัน = straighten teeth (as with braces) and ลวดดัดฟัน = the braces themselves (ลวด = wire).

    ดัดผม dàt-​pǒm = permanent (as in a perm for the hair) not to be confused with ตัดผม ​dtàt-​pǒm = haircut. Look at the first consonant of each to see the difference. If you go to a hair stylist or barber be sure to say this one correctly or you might come out with something unexpected.

    BTW, I have had both male and female dentists here and they also do the work that the dental hygienists do back home (cleaning, etc.)

    Although some may look quite young the last “giggly girl” who worked on my teeth was a professor at the provincial dental college.

  4. Catherine,

    Dental “Spas” conjures up an interesting picture. Not most people’s idea of a place to be pampered, I expect. :-)

    Hugh,

    Definitely important to keep ด and ต straight! Not that I have enough hair to curl. :-)

  5. Oh, and why is it alwauys better to go to the dentist in Thailand than to a doctor?
    Because the dentist is หมอฟัน :-)

  6. I believe another, or possibly better term for ortho treatment is “จัดฟัน”.

  7. John,

    Looks like that works too, although my teacher used ดัดฟัน. However, I googled both and got slightly more hits for จัดฟัน than ดัดฟัน (about 1.4M vs 1.3M) Image searches for both yielded lots of smiling people with braces. :-)

  8. Is it possible that these terms may be similar to the ones we use in English? We have orthodontic treatment (จัดฟัน) to arrange or straighten teeth (ดัดฟัน).

  9. ดัดฟัน sounds a bit more precise to me since I get dictionary meanings of “bend” and “adjust” for ดัด, but I think you are right about both being similar to words we use in English . . .

  10. I have a picture of a sign above a dental office in BKK using the word “จัดฟัน” along with “ทำฟัน” and “รากเทียม” which together, I would guess, means “dentistry, orthodontics, implants”.

  11. So… I guess ทำฟัน is to do dental work, จัดฟัน/ดัดฟัน is to do orthodontia, and รากเทียม certainly seems to refer to implants. I find ราก = root and เทียม = prosthetic which certainly seems to fit the bill. :-)

  12. These kinds of discussions are very enlightening. I asked a dentist friend and she said both are correct. Which one do you use?, I asked. ดัดฟัน, she said.

    The word จัด = adjust, arrange, also to line up. The sentence จัดโต๊ะ = Set the table

    ดัด = adjust, alter, bend

    A wonderful American saying is “6 of one, half dozen of the other”.

  13. John,

    I see you are a dentist yourself (just click on John’s avatar). Thanks for your contribution. I don’t know much more about dentistry than answering the command “open wide” (อ้าปาก /âa bpàak/ in Thai). Would love to hear your observations on Thai dentistry.

  14. I could have used this a few years back when I went for a checkup in Bangkok. They asked me if anything was wrong, and I just said I wanted a check up and cleaning…They turned me away with a Thai smile!

    I thought for sure they’d at least want a bit of my business.

  15. I’m not sure but have the impression that dentistry in Thailand is pretty good.

  16. I’ve heard they don’t have dental hygienist in Thailand. Therefore they probably aren’t programmed for preventive care the way we are in the US.

  17. Khun Hugh
    You’re keeping it up!

    Khun John
    Dental hygienists in Thailand are called ทันตาภิบาล. They even have their own association.

  18. David,

    Thanks David. I stand corrected.

    When I have brought up this subject with two different Thai teachers they indicated dentists do all the cleanings. They weren’t aware that dental hygienists existed.

    Since most dentist in the U.S. aren’t interested in cleaning teeth I figured it was the same in Thailand and that is why Emily couldn’t get a checkup and cleaning in Thailand.

  19. David,

    Great catch. I didn’t know this one. I can’t find this word (ทันตาภิบาล)in any of my dictionaries. I think it may be a new word, like made up from other words. So I looked up the different parts.

    ทันตา = Pali for tooth as in ทันตแพทย์ /tan-ta-pâet/ above

    ภิบาล = couldn’t find this word on its own but อภิบาล /à-​pí-​baan/ means “to look after” and สุขาภิบาล /sù~​kǎa-​pí-​baan/ (สุขา = health) means “sanitation” (another made up word I am sure). So putting these together they look right.

    How in the world did you learn this word?

    Thanks for the contribution.

  20. Hugh,

    The etymology of ทันตาภิบาล is pretty interesting; wonder why they tapped Pali for its components instead

    I tried the online Longdo dictionary and it came up with “dental nurse” in one of its outputs. Amusingly, google translate came up with “anonymous” for the definition, but just doing a regular search on the word turned up the association David mentioned. They call themselves “dental auxiliaries.”

    I like doing image searches too. Sometimes that helps me to understand if a word is appropriate for the context. For example, if I look up “tooth enamel” in an online dictionary and find ฟัน for “tooth” and เคลือบ for “enamel,” I am not sure if the word เคลือบ is only appropriate for bathroom sinks and tubs. But searching for images with ฟัน and เคลือบ returns lots of shiny white teeth. Putting quotes around the search terms makes sure the words actually are used together and in the right order: “เคลือบฟัน.”

    I also found “เคลือบผิวฟัน” and “เคลือบฟันเทียม” and even “เคลือบผิวฟันเทียม” for dental veneers.

  21. Hugh,

    I am wondering if “ทันตาภิบาล” means “dental hygienist” as we know the term in the U.S. In some parts of the world and possibly some places in the U.S. there are “dental nurses” who perform simple restorations.

  22. Khun Hugh
    Khun John
    I got the term from the association’s website. Khun John is correct in that in their website they translate the term into “dental auxiliaries”. They also refer to themselves as “dental health technicians” in English. I agree that we should look at substance more than at form so perhaps Khun John can call the association to ascertain what are the functions of a ทันตาภิบาล. This should throw more light on the subject.

  23. My bad. It was Khun Keith (not Khun John) who did the search and came up with the “dental auxiliaries” website.

  24. It finally dawned on me, I know a Thai dentist. This is her response to the question about auxillaries in Thailand.

    “We don’t have dental hygienist ka…but we have someone we call “Tantapibarn”, they can do everything except root canal treatment, fillings or extraction that so hard ka….”

  25. Here is an infographic about Thailand Dentists – http://smileplanners.com/blog/thailand-dentists-by-the-numbers-infographic/

    The infographic covers total dentists, not by gender, but here is a finding from the World Heath Org., the findings are a bit outdated. “The numbers of male and female graduates were approximately equal before 1992. Since then, female graduates have increasingly out-numbered male graduates. In 2000, the number of female graduates is about three times the number of male graduates.” Link to WHO report: http://www.who.int/hrh/en/HRDJ_4_2_05.pdf

  26. Interesting post regarding prices. Some procedures are half of what they are in the U.S. Implants however, are in the range of what is being charged here.

  27. ทันต-(prefix) ฟัน/tooth, งาช้าง/tusk
    ทันตกรรม(n) dentistry
    ทันตกรรมจัดฟัน(n) orthodontics

    My dentist in Chiang Mai rate:
    ดัดฟัน 42,000 บาท
    จัดฟัน 38,000 บาท

    The different prices means the two procedures are not the same

    จัดฟัน commonly performed in children or teenagers.
    จัด means arrange, so arrange the teeth for gaps, twisted, disfigured(I might need help from khun John for the proper terminology), similar to orthodontics.

    ดัดฟัน ดัด means bend ; straighten ; flex
    This required more work such as extraction or braces.

    Khun John, Does English has different terms for these two procedures?

    According to http://www.haamor.com
    “Dental auxiliary” has the closest meaning to ทันตาภิบาล
    It’s a 2 years degree and they are mainly working in a rural areas where it’s lack of dentists.
    They can perform basic dentistry such as extraction,filling, cleaning etc.

    ทันตาภิบาล is consist of (1) ทันตพยาบาล/Dental nurse (2) นักทันตบำบัด/Dental therapist (3) นักทันตสุขอนามัย/Dental hygienist and (4) นักทันตกรรมเทคนิค Dental technician
    read more at http://www.haamor.com

    ภิบาล- (suffix) take care of, guard, protect, look after.
    Similar to บำรุงรักษา,ปกครอง
    eg.สุขาภิบาล(n) sanitation
    เขตสุขาภิบาล sanitation district
    Some of you might have heard เขตสุขาภิบาล2 ซอย15 eg.

    Anyhow, it’s quiz time :-)

    Does anyone know a slang definition for the word ฟัน??

    Cat, you can delete this question if you like :-)

    Episode18: What is ‘tam boon’ ทำบุญ? And why do Thais do it?

  28. Mia,

    You are always a wealth of knowledge. Thanks again.

    As to your Quiz question: I know many definitions for the slang term “ฟัน”. I am sure Thai has even many more. But this is a family oriented blog so if you would like to learn some English ones try this link (http://thesaurus.com/browse/copulate).

    Glad I could help.

    BTW, I just cracked a tooth (molar = ฟันกราม) and will be seeing my dentist again tomorrow morning. Just the thing to do on a smoggy 100 degree day in Chiang Mai. Wish me luck.

  29. Thanks Mia!

    น่าสนใจมากครับ The average cost for การคัดฟัน/การจัดฟัน in the U.S. seems to be about $5,000 or ~฿150,000, although insurance will pay for some of it, if you have it included in your dental plan, which is not always the case.

    I did not know the answer to the quiz, nor did I know that ฟัน could be a verb. I found “chop, hack, slash” as with an axe or sword, and maybe even “struggle against or fight.” It reminds me of the English expression “fighting tooth and nail” when talking about a particularly hard fight.

    And I think that the classifier for ฟัน is ซี่.

  30. I look at every situation I find myself in here in Thailand as an opportunity to learn something. Usually I am learning vocabulary.

    Just came back from the dentist.

    1. I cracked my tooth (ฟันแตก /fan dtɛ̀ɛk/)
    2. I need to get a crown (ครอบฟัน /krɔ̂ɔp-fan/)
    3. Today the dentist took an impression (พิมพ์ /pim/)of the tooth
    4. She will have to inject (ฉีด /chìit/) a pain killer or anesthetic (ยาชา /yaa-chaa/)
    5. And then she will grind down the tooth (กรอฟัน / grɔɔ fan)
    6. Then make a temporary (ชั่วคราว /chûua-kraao/) crown
    7. Finally she will put in the permanent (ถาวร /tǎa-wɔɔn/) crown

    Not much fun (no pun intended) but I learned a lot.

    For the dentists reading this: I’m getting a palladium crown. Doesn’t look as good as a porcelain one (cost about the same) but she will have to grind less of the tooth and unless I do one of my frequent belly laughs with my mouth wide open no one will see the crown since it is way in the back.

    Charge for the whole procedure 10,000 baht, less than $350 at today’s exchange rate. (BTW, neither dentists nor doctors are uncomfortable talking about the prices of their services. Asking “How much?” เท่าไหร่ /tâo-rài/ is completely acceptable and in fact it is expected.)

  31. Hmm. Last time I needed a crown I think it cost me 600 or 800 dollars U.S., and that was with insurance covering about half the full price. And the amount only came up when it was already time to pay.

  32. Keith,

    That’s considerably more than I get for my crowns. Where did you get the crown? The cost of office space in NYC or other major population center is significantly higher than a country town like where I practice. That would be one of the major contributors to the high fee.

    Standard of care in California and I assume most of the country requires you to receive a written estimate of charges before treatment.

    Sorry you got stung like that.

  33. John,

    It was in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. Maybe you should move your practice here? ย้ายออฟฟิศได้ไหมครับ :-)

  34. Sounds like it might be worthwhile :)

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