• Day 45: The French Dentist: Is it Safe?

    Date: 2010.04.13 | Category: Uncategorized | Tags:

    Today began poorly, with my first-ever visit to a French dentist.  It ended on an equally dreary note, when I had to overnight my tax returns to the U.S. in time for the Thursday deadline

    A day when I came thisclose to buying my favorite Haribo Polka candies at the Maxi Bazar near the train station where they were also selling half-priced Easter candy, the very sight of which made me feel faint.

    But I digress. Back to this morning. I do everything here  in French and I have for years -- except go to a French dentist. I got the name of one of the best and asked myself:  How bad could it be?

    Well, the French dentist was shorter than Laurence Olivier. In fact, I think he came up to my shoulders.

    He started off nice and friendly, telling me he’d studied in “Indiana, dans le pays profonde.”

    So far, so good. I was ushered into his blinding white office/drilling headquarters. One side of the giant, open room was an office with desk and chairs.  The other was taken up by a forbidding looking, white leather dental chair where the victim/hostage sits.

    Which is how I felt when I lowered myself into it.   But it was still going well enough; the dentist was beaming and asking if he could practice his English.  Fine by me.  I told him that my last dentist had taken X-rays that showed a cavity on my right side but that was two years ago.

    His face darkened slightly and he picked up  a terrifying-looking instrument.

    “We don’t know if you have a cavity,” he said, sternly. “Sometimes, they just tell you that.”

    “They do?” I said, having somehow missed the dentist-as-con-man in many decades of faithfully visiting dentists.

    I asked if he was going to take X-rays.

    “Maybe,” he said, picking at my teeth which had just been cleaned in New York in January. “Oh, you have so much plaque.  I won’t be able to do anything without cleaning first.”

    “I do?” I said, having only heard compliments from dental hygienists about my plaque-free teeth since I floss every night.

    The dentist then got up abruptly and swung a small, cylinder-like object toward me from behind the chair and stuck it up against the right side of my face.

    “Are you taking an X-ray?” I asked, wondering where the anti-radiation apron was.

    The dentist looked scornful. “We don’t use those for just one X-ray like this.”

    “So you’re just taking one X-ray?” I said, very confused.

    It appeared so.   But there was a glitch with the X-ray machine I didn’t understand; meanwhile his assistants kept coming and going out of the room and the dentist kept taking phone calls.

    The X-ray image came up on a video console near me and he said that yes, he could see a cavity on my right side, just as my other dentist had said.

    “But it hasn’t been there for two years, it’s been there for four years,” he said.  I didn’t ask how he could possibly know that.

    He sat back down near his tray of sinister instruments.

    “We’re going to clean first,” he said, picking at my teeth. Then he stopped what he was doing and said I would need anesthesia but the French word for anesthesia sounded like “incision” to me.

    “An incision?” I said.

    Lying New York dentists, one-eyed X-ray machines, filthy plaque-covered teeth? OK, but an incision?

    Non, anesthésie!” he crowed.

    “Oh,” I said, slightly relieved.  ”Comme Novocain.”

    Non!” he said. “Not Novocain.  We use something better.”

    Then he pried open my mouth again.

    “I will start on the cavity,” he said.

    “But I thought you said you had to clean the teeth first,” I said.

    Non, I think I will do the cavity,” he said.

    At that point I said non, as I do so often in France.

    Il faut que je réfléchisse un peu,” I said.  The dentist nodded.

    Apparently, getting all the way to the dental chair and then deciding against getting drilled in favor of some quiet reflection on your cavity at home is normale.

    He cleaned my teeth and laughed merrily when he hit a sensitive back molar and I rose out of my seat.

    Filling a cavity costs about $25 in France. The last cavity I had filled in New York cost $950.

    Looking back, it now seems worth every penny.

    I’ll keep swimming for my supper so I can afford it.