Brushing up on Dentistry in Moscow
After completing dental school in Russia, Dr. Andrei Volkov received additional training and experience in North America before returning to practice dentistry in his native country. Today he is part of the team at American Clinic Dental Art. He took some time to speak with Passport’s special dental correspondent, Flossie Zubova.
It happened by chance when I was young. I knew I wanted to go into something medicine-related. On the first day of university, there were two buses to take interested students on excursions, one to the medical clinic and one to the dental clinic. I didn’t know which was which and got onto the dental bus. The rest is history.
Why did you decide to go abroad for additional training?
At a certain point, it was clear to me that I had to improve my skills, learn more. In Russia at that time, it was relatively difficult to get information; it was not so open, there was no Internet. So going abroad was really the only option.
Why was it so important to get exposure to practices beyond traditional Russian dentistry?
Russian dentistry inherited many traditions from Soviet dentistry, which was dominated by a handful of figures whose work formed the foundation of Soviet dental training. Their methods were guided largely by practical considerations. As a result, there are practices that are mainstream here — everyone learns them — that do not exist anywhere else.
For example, there is a root canal treatment that involves use of a solution that permanently dyes the tooth red. The method is unpredictable but it very fast, inexpensive, and effective in relieving pain. I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard that the treatment was developed for use by the Red Army especially because of these attributes — the procedure would allow the soldier to return to the field quickly. And this battlefield dentistry became the norm in the USSR.
Of course, for me, those methods are relics. Here at our clinic we use only the safest and most modern methods that meet international standards.
Are the chief dental problems you see among Russians the same as those you see among North Americans?
Pretty much, except here there are more problems related to smoking.
I notice in the drugstore that toothbrushes come with bristles of different hardness — soft, medium, and hard — and yet I’ve never had a dentist recommend that I buy a hardbristle brush. Is there anyone who should use one?
I don’t know. Dogs, maybe?
Can you tell me anything about the history of dental floss?
I don’t know specifics, but I think it’s been around for a long time. In terms of ancestry, I think it’s connected with the toothpick.
There’s an old Russian proverb “A smile without a reason is the sign of a fool.” Has the connotation of smiling changed in Russia since the Soviet time?
The proverb still exists, but the mindset has changed. A nice smile has become more important, more valuable, for example, in business circles.
In American popular culture, dentists are often portrayed negatively. Is the same true in Russian popular culture?
Yes. One example is in the classic Soviet comedy Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession. In that film there is an episode in which the protagonist goes to the dentist. In the scene the patient is shown vibrating in the chair to the soundtrack of a jackhammer as the dentist is drilling.
Does that offend you?
No. That image of the dentist is an antiquated one. A lot has changed in dentistry over the years, and those old stereotypes couldn’t be farther from the environment in which I work. The comfort of our patients is our highest priority, and painless methods are the norm.
What dental advice would you give Vladimir Lenin?
As I remember, he could have used some orthodontia.
American Clinic Dental Art
15 Druzhinnikovskaya St.