Going to the dentist in France (or anywhere) is never fun. Add some dental work to the mix and a big bill and it’s even less fun. Even without dental work and a big bill, going to a dentist in a foreign country for the first time can make you anxious. Luckily, we have dental coverage and I decided right after Christmas that it was about time to get my regular cleaning. And guess what? I lived to tell about it! But not without a few stories…
Going to the dentist in France
I’m one of those people who tolerates the dentist but gets really nervous. I’ve had a jaw problem for years, had a bad experience because of that at the orthodontist when I was young, and just don’t like people messing with my teeth.
Because of that whole nervous thing, I go out of my way to floss and treat my teeth with extra care to avoid any major dental work. For me, having a root canal would be a life failure and would mean I really messed up. I’m more likely to get a tattoo across my forehead than willingly submit to major dental work. Holy panic!
Let’s just say that making an appointment at all with the French dentist was a major feat. I’d been seeing my regular dentist on trips back home to the USA until now.
What’s going to the dentist in France like?
It’s similar to the US in a lot of ways except my dentist said a couple of things you never want to hear your dentist say. Ever.
Going to the dentist in France
NOTE: This is just my experience of dentistry in France based on a dental visit in my area (where there is a shortage of dentists). Not all dentists in France are the same and others’ experiences will vary.
Thing you never want to hear #1:
“Sure, since you’re a new client, our next available appointment is…. May 15. Does that work?” (remember I called in December)
May 15?!?!? DOES THAT FRICKIN WORK?? SWEET JESUS, NO IT DOES NOT! Well, that’s what I wanted to say. I really, really did. But my regular New York-influenced personality doesn’t really fly in France. I had to tone in down because, you see, in France it’s all about the charm.
What did I say instead? I first clarified that I heard that date correctly (I had) and was informed that as a new patient, I’d have to wait. Yippee. France is cool and all for a lot of reasons, but new dental patient waiting times is not one of them.
Thing you never want to hear #2:
In my introductory visit, the dentist explained that he has two options if I needed dental work: gas and a regular Novocaine shot. But, he can’t administer the gas, he told me, because he hasn’t done the training session for it yet.
Oh man, are you sure you’re really a dentist? You are kinda young. And while I’m all for honesty and being direct, maybe scale back this honesty thing on a need-to-know basis — especially when you’re dealing with an already nervous patient who doesn’t even have a need for Novocaine or gas now. Makes me want to run for the exits. Way to instill confidence there. You know how to use the spit sucker, right? RIGHT? That’s important.
Thing you never want to hear #3:
“OK so for your cleaning, we’ll schedule that soon. Not a long wait. How about the end of July?”
Uh dude, not sure what calendar you follow or if you work 2 hours/day just once a week, but that is two months away! You know it’s May 15 now and an additional two-month wait won’t work for me. That’s insane and you’d better fit me in next week or I’ll…… I’ll…. Ah dammit, I can’t do anything. I wish I’d said all that. Instead, I fought my instincts and just smiled and nodded my head like the charming, submissive French wannabe that I am. Much to my utter disappointment, getting pushy and demanding SO doesn’t work here. I’ve become a shell of my former self!
Some other observations:
— Preventive work isn’t really the norm. And that makes sense. Routine dental care isn’t expensive here, so if you have good teeth that you take care of, you won’t be making the dentist any money. Dentists in France want you in agony so he can do root canals and crowns and make a living. No need to go digging around for tiny cavities. Just wait until you can see it on an x-ray or you’re writhing in pain! (Note: Generally if you have severe tooth pain, a dentist will do his/her best to fit you in sooner. They aren’t all masochists.) Dental care in France is more bare bones than what I was used to.
— Two or more cleanings per year aren’t the norm in France. (my old dental insurance in New York paid for 3 cleanings a year even!) Basically you go to the dentist when you have a problem. Your “cleanings” (détartrages) are the main part of French dental care are over in 20 minutes max — more like 10 for me — and are way less thorough than they are in the USA.
— French people, like Americans, find dental care expensive. If you don’t have a supplemental insurance that covers dental, anything more than a regular cleaning/exam will cost a bit (but nowhere near the cost of things in the US). A dental x-ray, exam and cleaning is about 50 euros total where I go, before insurance reimbursements. Even the root canal cost in France is about a third of what you’d pay in the USA. Oh happy day!
— There is no little goodie bag at the end. I like free stuff. Or maybe it just felt better getting a goodie back in the USA when you drop several hundred bucks, or worse, in one fell swoop on your teeth. No free toothbrush, floss (the French don’t use it regularly because it’s not drilled into their heads as kids like it is in the U.S.) or toothpaste. What a bummer! That bag was proof that I survived!
Do you take care of your teeth? If you’re going to the dentist in France, you really don’t have anything to worry about!
Do you hate going to the dentist? Tell me about it!