Visiting a dentist never scared me even though it’s always brutal, especially for someone who suffered through braces in high school.  So I didn’t think much of it when I called to book an appointment and wasn’t all that afraid until I was sitting in the chair Wednesday afternoon.

First, let’s back up.

The permanent wire behind my teeth can usually indicate when I should really go in for a teeth cleaning (for those of you who have one, you’ll know what I mean) especially when it’s been more than 4 months since the last appointment.  I also went to a medical information session hosted by the Schlumberger Spouse Association two weeks ago and learned all about the medical system, what is covered, how we get reimbursed, how to fill in all the ridiculous paperwork, etc etc.  And despite the fact the presenter constantly used words like “should”, “could” and “magic” to describe how the system works, I left feeling surprisingly more confident in finally booking an appointment.

FACT: In France the social security (aka health care system) covers dental care too.

I used a combination of French social security website and good ol’ Google to find a dentist in my area – there are lots! The one I settled on was located just next to where I grocery shop and had a personal website (translated into English) – this was a bonus. The fact he had one “excellent!” Google review also helped.

I was particularly proud of myself after I was able to ask, in French, for a “rendezvous” (which is French for appointment) and also one for David for a few weeks later.

Fittingly, I spent the morning of my appointment at the Salon du Chocolat.  I went with two friends, Coco and Amy, and for two hours we went from booth to booth sampling all the chocolate, macaroons, and nougat we could stomach before getting sick.  Not only does France have a plethora of wine and cheese varieties, it also does chocolate very,very well.

Back in Canada we get Purdys, Laura Secord, Godiva, Rogers and Rocky Mountain – enough to count on one hand  basically.  But here there seems to be a specialty chocolate shop on every block, with a multitude of unique ones not to mention all the brand names. In the end, the Salon du Chocolat is just a good excuse to eat chocolate – how else are you going to maximize the 13 euro ticket.  Plus the chocolate dresses weren’t too bad too look at.  (Luckily they were behind velvet rope, I could have just snapped off a piece of it because they looked so yummy.)

Later that afternoon, I arrived at the office which was on the 4th floor of a residential building. Here, you don’t see medical clinics and bright neon lights advertising medical services. Just a simple gold plate outside a building tells you you’re in the right place.

After taking all my details (again all in French) the secretary/hygienist sat me in the chair and started on X-rays.

I just chuckled inside my head.  In Canada they try to reduce your exposure further by only taking two maybe even just one X-ray.  Here I was subjected to four blasts as I awkwardly held the x-ray film in my own mouth with my fingers.  In Canada they cover your body with a metal jacket. Here that was non-existent.

Then it was onto the cleaning. She started whizzing away with the water jet drill thing-y when a few seconds later something was wrong. The suction wasn’t working and I was now lying with an ever rising puddle of saliva and water in my mouth, trying not to gag.She was back and forth, turning on and off the lights/electricity.  At this point, I start thinking to myself… why am I here?  My teeth are perfectly fine.  This doesn’t look professional.  I could end up with a infection and have to try to explain, in French, what my “maladie” is.  I don’t care to have a big, puss filled abscess or much worse, loose a tooth!  Distracted, I turn my head to see what she was doing, and that’s when I feel a long stream of saliva and water drip down my cheek onto my neck and shoulder.  Why my mouth was still open?  I have no idea.After about 10 attempts to turn the machine on and off, she finally points me in the direction of the sink, a little too late but I was glad to finally spit it all out.  Some more back and forth, on and off, and we were back in business.

I settle into which will no doubt be at least 20 minutes of pain… scraping, flossing, jet cleaning, bleeding gums, suction and all, when no later than 5 minutes passed and we appear to have finished the cleaning.  I was perplexed… my teeth were not cleaned like usual.  Is this all I came for?

She conveniently finds a small cavity and thinking the dentist will come in at any moment (the guy I saw on the website with big shiny smile advertising that he speaks English), I’m once again proven wrong in France because nothing ever seems to be like it is back home.  So most of the appointment is spend filling is some random cavity;  apparently she’s a reception/hygienist/dentist extraordinaire.  I received a local anesthesia (and by that I mean, a large, antique-looking metal syringe poked into my gum, three times) yet didn’t get the usual lip numbing, slob inducing feeling.   She fills it and then I have to explain three times over that I can feel something protruding and after she files it down three times, I decide I can live with it and figured it’ll wear down with time anyway.

I head back to the desk, two feet away from where I was lying down, to pay for the service, just over 80 euros, not too expensive I guess.  I now have to get it reimbursed from the French Social Security system and then by David’s supplementary health care plan from work… just like magic.  I also try to ask (and this is where my French went down hill) if there is a maximum number of times per year for teeth cleaning the social security will pay for.  She says I just have to come back in a year, maybe 6 months if I really want another teeth clean.  I’ll have to rethink that.

As I left, looking over the forms and receipt, I become even more confused and recalled the story of a friend who recently went to a doctor here in Paris.  She too looked for something close by and went in for something minor, like an eye infection, and just needed some antibiotics.  Her Doctor proceeded to look in a medical book and begin her diagnosis.  Doctor: Is it swollen?  My friend (in her head): You’re the doctor, can’t you see for yourself.  Finally, after being prescribed from said text book as well, she was asked to pay and then handed a business card.  On closer examination… the doctor was a psychiatrist.

And I believe I may have suffered the same fate since I apparently booked an appointment with a “chirurgien-dentiste” (dentist surgeon) which left me thinking maybe they don’t do preventative care.  Was he a specialist?  And on a side note: that’s the problem with not having bright neon lights advertising medical services and just walking into a random residential building for a rendezvous.

Endnote:  All dentists here are “chirurgien-dentiste” so I was in the right place.  But upon reading other blogs about similar experiences, I guess they just don’t do a very thorough  deep teeth clean here.  I should have figured since I wasn’t chastised for not flossing regularly like I usually am from the Canadian dentists.  They can always tell…

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My name is Emilia - I love versatile trips! You might find me at a trendy new restaurant one night, but the next day you're just as likely to find me at a local market sampling exotic foods. I'm open to just about anything when I travel and I want to encourage you to be open too!