Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chez la dentiste

I finally did it. I went to the dentist in France.

I admit, I've been avoiding it. Oh god, the dentist. I get anxiety going to my US dentist whom I've known for 10 years, so the notion of dealing with an unknown dentist in France was way beyond unsettling. Instead, I'd had check-ups when I was back in Massachusetts, but the last one was over a year ago. I knew it was time to have my teeth cleaned.

Two important obstacles. First, I needed to locate a dentist, and second, I didn't know how to say "I need to have my teeth cleaned" in French. Was it nettoyer? I knew it wasn't brosser because that's, you know, what I do twice daily. I felt so inept. Of course, whenever I go to the doctor in France I feel mentally reduced to about a second-grader because I don't know even the basic terminology. Floss (the verb)? Rubber tip? Novocaine? Dental bonding? Fillings? Beats me how to say it. Or how about trying to mouth an entire phrase like "Don't poke that scary dental prong into the sensitive nerve above my right bicuspid, s'il vous plait." or "The saliva suction machine is making a callous in my sub-lingual tissue, madame." Definitely not vocab on the tip of my tongue.

Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and decided to go ahead with the ordeal.

I found a list of nearby dentists in the pages jaunes. But before I telephoned for an appointment I found a French dental glossary on line, and learned that the word for teeth-cleaning is détartrage. Now there's a word I'm comfy with. Whew. Détartrage -- a word close to my heart! It's what I do to the inside of my kettle, my Nespresso-maker, my plumbing. Get rid of scaly build-up. Yes!

Armed with my new phrase, I called around, and the second dentist I reached had just had un désistement [cancellation] this afternoon. She had time for a détartrage. No time to back out, so I booked the appointment.

Still a little jittery, I arrived 10 minutes early to the appointment, a five-minute walk from my apartment. I rang the doorbell, walked up to the first floor and into Dr. A's living room. It looked like a faded Matisse tableau. Homey, inviting, with swirls of warm reds and vivid patterns. A white teacup poodle was curled up on the cozy paisley sofa across from the TV. I felt odd, sitting in my dentist's living room, even though I knew enough to anticipate the typical home-office scenario.

I had ample time to peruse this week's Gala magazine on the coffee table. (Boy, are the Parisian journalists all on vacation, or what? I think there were just three journalists in town last week who wrote the same three stories for every news magazine. Oops. I digress. Anything to get my mind off the imminent emotional agony of the dentist's chair.)

Gala was a breeze to finish cover to cover in under three minutes, so after that intellectual edification I just looked around the living room, wiggling my foot nervously as I checked out her personal DVD selections, the fern plants, her favorite books. I glanced over at tiny, timid Fifi. She blinked back.

Finally I heard Dr. A finishing with her patient. "See you next week!" she chimed. Ulp. He had to return? My mind raced. Then she greeted me, saw the dog, and scolded, "Oh, how did you get in here, Fifi?" Smiling, she turned to me. "Sometimes she scoots in from the kitchen when the door opens," she explained. "She likes to see people."

Dr. A was so warm and pleasant I began to loosen up a bit. Her professional dentist room couldn't have been more different from the waiting room/living room next door. Clean, bright, with modern lines, painted a soothing pale blue, with hi-tech Lucite furniture. I explained about needing a détartrage and all the particulars of my mouth, which I am always edgy about. The shiny instrument stand had all the terrifying sharp motor-driven tools that make me cringe. Dr. A was so reassuring and sweet, I really couldn't help but relax. I steeled myself for the dreaded scraping, poking, and -- even worse, the anticipated chiding for lack of proper daily care. I mean, that's what dentists and their hygienists DO, right? They scold.

Wrong on all counts. No rotating abrasive brush with "pick-your-flavor" granular paste. No criticism. No prongs. No hygienist -- Dr. A was an all-in-one dentist. She used an aeropolisseur, a machine that kind of sandblasts the teeth with a highly pressurized salt and water spray. After 15 zingy minutes, she said, "Voila. Rinse."

"That's all?"

"That's all. You have lovely teeth."

58 euros, and I was out of there with a dazzling smile, no plaque and no guilt.

I have just experienced spiritual conversion, dentally.


Evelyn said...

I feel your dental-pain! I hate going to the dentist.If I ever move to Paris, I want the name of Dr. A...she sounds like my kind of gal. You are so brave...I hope you got a sticker or new toothbrush when you left.

Prêt à Voyager said...

It's the week of the dentist! Everyone I know has seriously gone to the dentist this week. So random. And then in the shower this morning I actually was pondering if I did move back to France what a dental visit would be like. Thanks for the 411 :)


Lora said...

What a fun and entertaining story you made for going to the dentist. I think Dr. A. stands for Dr. Awesome!!

Unknown said...

you could have asked me the contact for my super dentist... i mean, i only went to the dentist 27 times in the course of 13 month between 2006 and 2007 ... (yes, i realize it doesn't make the dentist sound competent. but it's more like there was a lot of work...)

Tony said...

Yes, French dentists and doctors are OK nowadays. It was a different story a few years ago, when going to the toubib might mean having some ghastly quack with a wine-stained goatee advancing on you with a handful of mildewed suppositories.

Cécile Qd9 said...

@ Ariane & Polly : I need your addresses...

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Pret a voyager -- it really is the week of the dentist. I just read dooce, and all 3 of them went. For that back-to-school smile.


Yeah, I should have asked you. The sign of a good dentist is when others don't realize all the work that's been going on -- and your smile is great, though I'm usually laughing at your wicked wit too much to even notice. You mean you really WERE at the dentist all those times you said "I have a dentist appointment"? :)

Cecile - email me if you want the address. Dr. A is in the 7e.

Landon Worley said...

Congratulations on making it through your first dentist appointment in France! I can tell that you went through it with some trepidation because of your limited French at the time, but it turned out to be a really good experience. The dentist worked quickly and efficiently, so I hope that you returned to that dentist to have your teeth checked.

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