I’ve written about French dentistry before. Still, a visit to the local surgery this week for part 2 of some pre-crown root-canal work prompts me to add some further observations on this delicate subject.
Having recently completed my field study on tartar build-up on native teeth, I’m led to conclude that the state of the national dental health leaves a lot to be desired. This is surprising given that – in my opinion, anyway – dentists here are generally more professional and less expensive than their British counterparts.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. The Butcher of Brive, for example, who performed root-canal work on my poor wife without the aid of anaesthetic. Cursed as I am with a vivid imagination and having seen Marathon Man twice, it pains me to think of the agony she must have suffered at this sadist’s hands. She dare not tell me his name – she knows I’d take my Lidl pliers from my Lidl toolbox and I’d go find that goddamn tooth-butcher and extract every goddamn tooth in his head.
Anyway, soft words butter no parsnips and I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him. My fine local dentist, that is. Painless though it was, the visit on Tuesday morning was not without its ‘issues’.
There is the continuing saga of how to address my dentist. Since I have met Docteur Garcia at a couple of social events, I was torn between ‘Docteur’, ‘Docteur Garcia’, ‘Philippe’ or an indistinct mumble. Well, last week – for part 1 of the root-canal work – I took a deep breath and blurted out ‘Philippe’. It didn’t seem to faze him, so I concluded that it wasn’t such a capital breech of social etiquette as my brother once committed (as a tip-happy waiter, who stored his spare coins in a pair of stack-heeled shoes) by tipping his dentist.
This week, though, I worried about whether I should use the second person singular or polite plural. After all, if I was bold enough to address him by his first name, it kind of implied that I should tutoye him. To tutoye or not to tutoye, that is always the bloody question in France. Fortunately, I was sufficiently awake at 8.15 in the morning to catch a second person singular tripping casually off his tongue. Which makes it much easier. If he can tutoye me, the cheeky monkey, I can damn well tutoye him.
So good is mon cher Philippe that I didn’t even feel the needle push up into my gum. I lay there in the chair tapping away at the acupuncture points on my fingertips, as my good wife has shown me, trying to deflect my thoughts from terrible images of dentistry throughout the ages and experimentation on terrified animals, and there was really no need for such anguish, because the man was gentleness and consideration itself.
Nevertheless, the business of trying to decipher his constant masked and mumbled commentary kept me on my toes. I managed to catch enough single words to work out that the reason why the preliminaries were taking so long was the dogleg that one of my three root canals took, making it very difficult for him to insert the Lilliputian metal file to prepare the passage for the paste that would block it up, hopefully, for good.
These difficulties generated a new source of anxiety: namely the number of ‘radios’ he had to take. Over the two weeks I have counted something like six X-rays. I know all about the tragic fate that befell Marie Curie. I’m hoping that six tiny doses of radiation do not equal a Chernobyl proportion. One shouldn’t be flippant about such matters, but I’m trying to shunt it to the back of my mind. I try to live my life by my wife’s credo – that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Anyway, I made it out of Philippe’s surgery and I’m still here to tell the tale. There was, however, one further unwelcome issue to address. On proudly handing the secretary my new Carte Vitale, I discovered that the estimate I’d received for the crown – the one I’d thought to be so reasonable – was not the end of the story. Oh no. It didn’t include the actual treatments. That is, four sessions at however much they are a pop. I couldn’t pay, didn’t pay, because I hadn’t brought my chequebook with me, expecting to settle up at the end of the course. And yes, it’s all very well that your Mutuelle pays the difference, but I have no Mutuelle. So that goddamn dogleg in my root canal is going to cost me.
Voilà! You have been warned, gentle readers. Dentists may generally be the business here in France, but you can never be too careful. May your root canals be less complex than mine.