Thursday, 8 January 2015

A Million-Euro Smile?

The other day, I had my first appointment with my new dentist in Paris. It was quite an experience.

When I was little, going to the dentist meant sitting in a leather chair with a spotlight over it while the dentist did a scale and polish using nothing more hi-tech than an electric toothbrush. When I was a bit older, a lot of the UK National Health Service dentists went private and some of the equipment got a bit more fancy, but the treatments were basically the same. My old French dentist was similar: he once did an X-Ray and a small preventative procedure, but basically it was contrôle and détartrage all the way.

I should also say here that my mum was super-strict with us about dental care when we were kids. We brushed for two minutes twice a day, took fluoride tablets and were only allowed to eat sweets after dinner and if we cleaned our teeth afterwards. As a result, we all have really healthy teeth: I don't have any fillings and have never had any problems or treatment that wasn't preventative. I'm used to going to the dentist and being complimented on my great teeth and told to keep up the good work and come back in six months for another scale and polish. And that's all.

And so it was that my appointment with my Parisian dentist was a bit of a surprise. He started off with a look in my mouth and some advice about brushing - so far so good. He recommended a couple of products, including some useful tiny little interdental brushes which I am looking forward to using as a more effective alternative to flossing.

Then he inspected my teeth in more detail, wearing a special pair of glasses with a light attached.

Then he took an X-Ray, just to have a better look.

Then he took some more pictures using some kind of special camera that he inserted in different places in my mouth, connected to his computer screen where we had already examined the (perfectly normal) X-Ray.

At various points along the way he commented on what a shame it was that I hadn't had my wisdom teeth extracted and had orthodontic treatment when I was younger.

Then he said I could still have the operation as an adult.

Then he discussed teeth whitening. I initially thought he was talking about a simple product that I could buy in the pharmacy and use at home, but then he mentioned that it would cost three or four hundred euros.

And finally, he cleaned my teeth. Then, as I paid, he made a long list of all the things he planned to do on my next visit.

I left with somewhat mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I'm all for high-quality healthcare and I paid the standard (refundable) price for my 45 minute checkup with all the fancy equipment. On the other hand, I'm a bit uncomfortable with all the recommendations for expensive treatments, including a very painful operation that no other dentist has ever suggested, when, by his own admission, if I keep doing what I've been doing for years and use those nifty little interdental brushes, my teeth will be just as strong and healthy as they've always been. If I'm honest, I'm quite tempted to find another dentist next time. After all, trying to sell you all sorts of unnecessary extras is bad enough when it comes from a car salesman, but it feels even more unethical, almost like a kind of blackmail, when it's coming from a health professional.

What do you all think? Have you had good experiences with dentistry in France? How does it compare to your home country?


  1. I'm curious, was he young? Because I've been to several dentists over the years, both in Paris and in Bretagne, and was always disappointed by how little they did compared to the US - visits were usually just a quick check and a 5 minute cleaning and then I was on my way. However I did have one visit like yours due to an emergency when my regular dentist was on vacation, and it was a young woman.

    When my dentist came back, I explained the 'experience' to her, and she said young dentists nowadays end up with a lot of debt, and so they end up trying to upsell a lot of different (unnecessary) procedures in order to pay back their debt, office space, equipment, etc.

    If you do want to swtich, I can recommend my dentist if you like - she's near Miromesnil, so pretty far from me, but I keep going because she's honest and super friendly. C and most of my friends now go to see her too. :)

    1. Thanks for the offer, Sam - I may take you up on that when I'm ready for my next appointment!

  2. My US dentists were all about the 6 month cleanings, but I always spent more time with the hygienists than the actual dentist. In Toulouse I see a middle aged dentist who is very soft-spoken and gentle. I've had a couple cavities filled, but he's never tried to encourage me to use other products or get my teeth cleaned or anything. And despite several cavities, he's never talked about the next appointment or tried to get me to commit to something (well except the time I had two cavities and I had to come back 2 days later for the second one with little vial anesthesia he prescribed).

    I have had quick x-rays done in the office though, usually to confirm exactly where the cavities are. He practices in a suburb of Toulouse and it's actually about a 30 minute drive for me to see him, but I started seeing him because of a recommendation and like Sam I keep going because I've had good experiences.

  3. Oh yeah, that's one reason I don't often have massages or facials etc., because I've had too many who spend the whole time basically trying to up sell things, which makes me super uncomfortable and thus negates the whole "relaxing" bit. (Mostly it's because these things are crazy expensive here!) Definitrly would be weirded out if it was a dentist/doctor doing it.

  4. I think I only went to the dentist once in France, but it was a very short appointment - just a simple cleaning and I was on my way. He didn't mention anything about my wisdom teeth - though my dentist in the US would ALWAYS say I should get them removed even though they grew in perfectly straight and I have never had problems with them. Even here in Australia, I only do the regular cleanings, but my dentist said since my teeth are so healthy (never had a cavity), I really only need to go back every 18 months or so just to remove the buildup of plaque. It definitely sounds like your Parisian dentist is just trying to get you to pay for things you don't really need. I'd probably go to a different one next time too.

  5. After being terrified of my hundred year old dentist in the states and his hundred year old equipment, I really liked my dentist in Metz, who was an adorable young woman who gave excellent advice and I secretly wanted to be my bff.
    Now in Thionville, I went with the one closest to me, and his assistant keeps getting my tongue caught in her spit sucking thing, and he seems to not care even a little that my gums are sensitive and a regular cleaning can hurt a lot. Since I first saw him when pregnant, I stuck with him, since he is perfectly competent and a two minute walk. He did suggest a very expensive (and painful) gum procedure, and because my gynaecologist was adamant that dental health is essential during pregnancy, I did it. He has a fancy chair with a TV above it, which my procedure probably paid for . . .
    I'll probably look for a new one after my appointment next week, unless my gums and tongue aren't in pain for once.

  6. I haven't visited a dentist in several years, but I want to cook a baby thi year and I know dental care is important now so I am dreading the visit! I would love to get my teeth whitened!

  7. Awww! I think those appointments and recommendations are far expensive than the usual. I think it's really important to do some research first, before going to a dental clinic. There are lots of dental clinics out there that will offer better services, but in a more affordable price. Nowadays, we really have to be practical and choosy in everything that we engage in. In any way, thanks for sharing that! I hope I helped. All the best to you!

    Felipe Robertson @ Philly Dentist

  8. I am living in another country and I have yet to go to the dentist. I always go when I take my trip home once a year. I do not know why I do not go here, but I just feel safer at home. Sooner or later I will have to make an appointment so I might as well look.

    Victor Peterson @ Dr. Farole