Apologies for the delay between blog posts: I suffered eight days of toothache after a root canal went wrong. The experience made me realise I don’t often talk about the more mundane aspects of living in a France. Visiting a French dentist for the first time can be a daunting task. Apart from the language barrier, there are a few differences to what I’m used to, and you might one day find these useful to know about.
Handy dental words
Un détartrage = teeth clean
Une carie = a cavity
Un plombage = a filling
Une dévitalisation = root canal
Une couronne = crown
Endodontist = root canal specialist
Chirurgien dentiste = standard dentist who can extract etc.
First of all, don’t expect a French dentist to be able to speak English. If you don’t feel your French is up to the task of something as serious as dental care, seek out an English-speaking dentist. You can learn French a lot better when you’re not distracted by your teeth falling out.
Once you’re at the dentist, don’t be surprised if the dentist is also the dental nurse. Of six surgeries I’ve been to since living in France (last week’s root canal was not my first), only two of them have had dental nurses assisting. The dentist swaps and changes between drilling and suction. This can be a tad unnerving at first, but remember, it’s your first time at this, not theirs.
And if you’re used to being offered eye protection, get used to having to close your eyes to avoid flecks of tooth and filling landing in your face: French dentists don’t seem to offer any sort of safety glasses while you’re in the chair.
Even though a dentist is the expert, you still have the right to ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about what the dentist wants to do, or you don’t understand completely, stop them and ask for a further explanation. This is not a French test! The health of your teeth is at stake. Each dentist will have a different approach to individual teeth problems, and if you’re not convinced with one’s course of action, try another.
Fillings tend to be reasonably priced, but more involved dental treatment can be expensive if you don’t shop around. Even if you have a French healthcare card (a Carte Vitale), you should shop around because the card only covers a certain cost of treatment. For example, I need a crown once the root canal treatment settles down. My dentist must provide me with a quote for the work he plans to do, detailing the type of crown and the total cost. The national cost is €107.50, but dentists can charge anything they like on top of this, and the cost can often escalate closer to €1,000. Obviously, making appointments at many dentists to get a quote isn’t desirable, and that’s where websites like dentissime.com come in. The site could be a lot better if people left more feedback about their dentists and if each dentist gave all the required information, but it is at least very handy for finding out roughly what a dentist might charge. For crowns, the site provides an average price as well as a minimum to maximum price for non-typical crowns.
If you have health insurance on top of a Carte Vitale, you might still want to go through this procedure because health insurance often won’t cover much more than the national price. The cheapest option is usually a ‘mutualiste‘ dental surgery. These are places that, as far as I can work out, agree on a price with your health insurance, but only charge you the minimum price, leaving your health insurance to sort out the rest. However, during my research, French opinion indicates that these centres might not use the best materials for the job or have dentists who aren’t motivated to do a good job. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. Am I going to risk it? After a week of toothache, no way! I’m going back to my previous dentist in Annecy.