Chez La Dentiste

dentist officeI 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 looked around Paris nite streetsthe 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-techLucite 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 had just experienced spiritual conversion, dentally.

Polly is a Boston born Baby Boomer who lived on the Left Bank in Paris and is still blogging about it at Polly-Vous Francais. © 2006-2008, Polly-Vous Francais, all rights reserved.

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