One thing that strikes me is how infrequently people seem to brush their teeth here in Central Europe. My question is: Why don’t people brush their teeth after lunch, if they’re at university or at work all day? (I’ve also met a higher-than-average number of people with bad breath in France and in Belgium which eventually culminated in me developing skills to implicitly and strategically avoid them)
In Korea, it is an accepted norm that one brushes their teeth after lunch. High schools dedicate space specifically for brushing your teeth. Everybody keeps toothbrush and toothpaste (and mouthwash) in their locker, and if you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get called out for being “dirty”(smelly is the exact term if you think about it). Even the smallest convenience stores carry several types of toothbrush kits.
At university, students usually eat at restaurants around campus or at the cafeteria. And after eating, they go to one of the bathrooms on campus, take out their toothbrush kit and brushed their teeth before the afternoon sessions. Every once in a while around 15:30, someone would say “Eek, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet!” and rush to the bathroom with their little toothbrush pouch.
In fact, Koreans care so much about dental hygiene that some companies provide dental equipment at the workplace. Here’s an example: IT conglomerate NHN (better known as Naver) has equipped its Bundang HQ with a “Chika-chika room” on each floor, a space entirely dedicated to brushing your teeth (Chika-chika refers to the sound people make when brushing their teeth) The rooms are completely separated from the bathrooms, and come with toothbrush sterilisers (image below). Employees leave their toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash (called ‘gargle’ in Korea) and other dental hygiene goods in personal cups or pouches on the shelves (not on image).
The first time I saw a UV steriliser for toothbrushes was during my internship at BCG. The Team Leader, a Harvard graduate in his mid-thirties, always kept a little cylindrical something the size of a pencil case plugged into his IBM laptop. It was a portable USB-powered UV steriliser. I thought it was the epitome of the cool metrosexual man. So clean and organised he even sterilses his toothbrush. He was the only one on the 10-person team with such a machine, but everyone else did always brush their teeth post-lunch. The bathroom was filled with toothbrushes and other dental hygiene material. It sure was funny to see all those pantsuit-wearing women gathered up in there, brushing their teeth, just the same way kids used to do in middle school and high school.
The National Health Insurance has extended dental coverage to a yearly teeth cleaning from June 2014. With this scheme, all NHIS members over 20 years of age (nearly all Korean nationals) will only pay 20% to 30% for professional teeth cleaning, with prices fixed at 13,000 KRW (approx. 10€ / 11$) at clinics and at 19,000 KRW (14€ / 16$) at dental hospitals as of 2014. Another reason Korean expats migrate home in the summer (especially those living in the US – My friend Didi jokingly says they “save up” on getting sick the whole year, just so they won’t have to pay the outrageous US fees).
After hearing about the 3-times-a-day story, European seemed puzzled. They claim that perhaps the difference arises from the fact that they eat very little “smelly” things. Well, if you really want to compare the smell of fresh camembert and seaweed…go ahead! (I love camembert and the smelly wonderful cheeses of France, but sometimes I think I want a separate cheese fridge, just like Koreans have ones dedicated to kimchi).
This post was originally uploaded on my Blogger: