Peering into the mouth of a top RCAF general missing most of his teeth, dentist Tith Hongyoeu felt as though he was gazing out at the open sea.
Challenged and intrigued, though not in the least bit nervous, Tith Hongyoeu came to the conclusion that the general needed full-mouth, reconstructive surgery—far from the simple procedure of extricating a problem tooth from an otherwise intact jaw.
Essentially, Tith Hongyoeu was going to have to create a sound dental framework for his patient almost from scratch.
“If you give me a plot of land, I can build a house,” the 32-year-old said in a recent interview. “But if you give me an ocean and tell me to build a house…. I can do it, but it will cost more.”
Intensive dental surgery ensued to the tune of a couple of thousand dollars and today the general in question—who Tith Hongyoeu asked not to be identified—can tear chicken from the bone with a spectacular set of implants.
At his private practice, Roomchang Dental Clinic on Street 228 in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, Tith Hongyoeu and his staff of eight dentists—including seven Cambodians and one New Zealander—treat between 60 to 80 patients a day at costs ranging from $10 for a run-of-the-mill cleaning to several thousand dollars for more complicated procedures.
Though those in Cambodia who can afford it usually travel overseas for medical treatment, Roomchang’s impressive roster of patients past and present speaks to the stellar reputation it has earned for dental work.
Tith Hongyoeu says that part of his success is due to staying within the parameters of what his staff can reasonably tackle.
Along with RCAF officials, CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum and former Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara have both been seen entering and exiting the Roomchang clinic in recent months.
Chea Sophara, now a secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, said he first heard about Roomchang from a friend and has been a patient there for the last two years.
“The dentist is so professional and talented,” he said, adding that the care he receives there is worth the higher prices.
Other dentists might offer similar services, but none can measure up, Chea Sophara said. “The same ingredients can be in two soups, but there is much difference in taste,” he said. “I prefer this one.”
An assistant to 103-year-old, recently retired Constitutional Council member Chao Sen Kosal said his boss goes to Roomchang around four times a year. Chao Sen Kosal used to see a dentist in France, but now entrusts his artificial dentures to Tith Hongyoeu and his staff, according to his assistant, who asked not to be identified.
Tith Hongyoeu, who has been practicing dentistry since 1995 when he graduated from Phnom Penh’s Faculty of Dentistry, was also trained abroad in countries including Malaysia, Vietnam and Germany.
He also consistently funds the education of up-and-coming Cambodian dentists by sending them abroad for training.
A stroll through the streets of Phnom Penh will turn up several brightly-colored dentist signs, but Tith Hongyoeu says the dentist-to-patient ratio is still very poor in Cambodia compared to nearby countries like Singapore.
He estimates that in Phnom Penh there are about 400 dentists serving a population of nearly 2 million people.
Nonetheless, “you don’t have to fly overseas to get quality dentistry,” he said.
And how to convince others? “Word of mouth,” he adds.
(Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda)