Art & Culture
Comments 3

The Korean “3-Times A Day” Ritual

(Picture from Korea Depart)

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)


Toothbrushes at the workplace (Image source: Simon, whose Instagram provides a colourful insight into life in Seoul)

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.


“Chika-chika”rooms at NHN/Naver (Image source: Nara Design)

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).


A UV ray & heat toothbrush steriliser from Kumho Oral-Tech

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.


Dental products at a university hospital. Photo by Simon.

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).


A toothpaste & brush kit from Perioe

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:

This entry was posted in: Art & Culture


Internationally lost since 2000, Emily was born in Seoul, raised in India, and has been living and studying in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands since 2014. A translator and interpreter by profession, she enjoys talking and debating just about anything.


  1. Hi Emily,

    I don’t recall what I was searching for online and I somehow stumbled on your website. Very interesting reads!

    I like this . – Korean-Born, Internationally Oriented

    And also this post was interesting, didn’t know that dental hygiene is up there and I frequent Seoul a fair bit for business. Always learning 🙂


    Robin x

    • Hey Robin! Took me sometime to deliberate whether I should approve your comment. I get a lot of spam/scammy comments.

      I like your approach. There is no get rich quick scheme in any job anywhere, is there? 😉

      Hope you’re enjoying the warmth somewhere in Asia, freezing here in Amsterdam!

      • Hi Emily,

        Haha. Thank you. Yeah, lots of them out there now. The world of ‘internet marketing’ =/

        Indeed, a genuine get rich quick scheme, highly rare. Hustle smart & play one’s cards well, and anyone can get there.

        Amsterdam. Ah, the cold. You’re brave. At least there will Christmas markets to enjoy. Yes, the beaches in Thailand are good for now 🙂

        Enjoy the December festivities out there!

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