Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Korean Everydayness: Dental Hygiene

I can't believe I haven't written about this yet. Koreans and their love affair with toothbrushes: it's one of the strangest things about living here. That's not to say their teeth are any better-looking than Americans' on average, because they're about the same. It's just that Koreans spend so much TIME brushing their teeth... loudly. And in public. Often.

In my office building, there are two bathroom stalls and three sinks in the women's bathroom. This isn't strange at all, right? Yesterday, I was waiting for one of the stalls to open up because both were occupied, and there was a woman brushing her teeth at one of the sinks. There was also a cup with another toothbrush next to another sink. This didn't strike me as odd. After about a minute (yes a full 60 seconds or so), a stall opened up and I went in. At this point, the woman who had just left my stall washed her hands and started brushing her teeth, too. I heard two toothbrushes in motion (chika chika in Korean) for another full minute or so, and when I came out to wash my hands the first woman was still brushing her teeth, as was the second. Then the first woman started rinsing her mouth with copious amounts of water scooped from the sink, and rinsed her toothbrush by rubbing it with her finger under the running water. I dried my hands and walked out as the sounds of tooth brushing went on behind me. This wasn't strange whatsoever.

Koreans brush their teeth everywhere: at work after lunch, in salsa clubs before dancing, in subway stations, at restaurants, etc. If there is a sink with running water, chances are a Korean has brushed their teeth there within the past week. Probably more like the last 24 hours.

The amazing thing is not only where and how many times a day they brush their teeth, but how they brush them. It's like they're bent on scraping every last bit of enamel off of every last tooth. I suspect this is why their teeth are no prettier than ours: because some of them actually do scrape all the enamel off because they brush too hard and too long. Then when they're done brushing their teeth, they rinse their mouths like there's some kind of poison in there. It reminds me of the chemical wash stations in labs at high school and college.

Then there's the spitting. Women don't do it as much as men, but I can hear it clearly from any men's bathroom or from my neighbors' homes. They hock the biggest lugies possible and spit them in the sink at Mach 3. The spitting isn't confined to toothbrushing time, either. It occurs on the streets, in parks, on the sidewalks, in the subway stations (old men), on mountain hiking paths. Everywhere you can imagine spitting in public has little, well actually they're pretty big, spit stains on the ground waiting for the next bout of rain to wash them away only to be replaced soon after.

The newest craze in toothbrushing in Korea are electric toothbrushes, of course. The US is crazy for them, too, and has been for years. There's actually controversy about which kind of toothbrush is better. I personally just got an Oral B electric toothbrush, and I have to say my vote's for that. My teeth feel so smooth- like there's no enamel left!


  1. I guess their dental habit is something that everyone in the world should become accustomed with. I’m glad that you seemed to be one those who are adapting to that practice. It’s no wonder you have a beautiful and healthy set of pearly whites. Keep it up!

    Weston Wadlington @ Peak Family Dentistry

  2. It is because of the food in Korea. There are lots of chilli flakes and seaweeds being eaten in everyday Korea. And sometime these chilli flakes an seaweeds get stuck in their teeth. Moreover Kimchi and some Korean dishes contain lots of garlic, that is why it smells after eating them.
    These are the probable reasons why Koreans tend to brush teeth a lot to get rid of the smell and the chilli flakes or seaweed.
    This brushing teeth practice has become a habit to most Koreans.
    Actually it doesn't mean that their teeth are any better than us foreigners. It's just a habit but I know that it's become too over when some people in Korea even brush like 4 to 5 times a day...They are crazy and when they do something, it's always overboard and are feeling proud of it as if the rest of the world do not care about dental health.

  3. They had different ways of cleaning their teeth. Too much force when brushing the teeth can cause damage to enamel. Visiting arlington va dentist or any other dentist for dental care is also important for continuous dental health care.