: an inspection, check-up, follow-up visit
Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or
Chez le dentiste, j'ai passé une visite de contrôle.
At the dentist's, I had a check-up.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
"Rendez-vous Chez Le Dentiste"
On the telephone, trying to communicate with my new dentist, I was once again at a loss for words.
"J'ai besoin de faire un.... un... un check-up!" I felt confident the tooth doctor would understand my request, seeing how so many English words are smuggled into France.
"Very well," he said in French, "une visite de contrôle."
The dentist's voice was younger than expected and he seemed friendly too. I had gotten his number from a stranger when we moved to town.
"Is he good?" I'd asked.
"Yes, but he's not very personable."
Fast forward to the contrôle. I am lying in the chair beneath a great big plastic bib. Every inch of my body is clutching the seat beneath me. My eyes are watering but I keep focused on the shiny equipment or the popcorn ceiling or the corner of the doctor's mask--anything to avoid an eye-lock with the dentist (which would be embarrassingly intimate--not to mention dangerous). Hopefully the doctor's eyes were trained on that pin-thin drill. Is that what the French use to remove plaque?
Aïe! I didn't remember a détartrage being this uncomfortable. I thought back to my favorite dentist in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. "Robert" was retired now. But what a gentle manner he had. And I loved how he used a salt-water rinse as he worked. I would close my eyes and imagine the seaside.
But this was not the beach. As the new dentist dug into my gums with the whirling metal toothpick my eyes traveled past the edge of his mask.... Perhaps an eye-lock was appropriate about now? Could Doc read my dilated pupils which screamed STOP!
His soft brown eyes were gentler than his touch. He looked peaceful yet highly concentrated on his task. Assured now, I began to relax. Until it came time to rinse...
Whoah! Ice cold water! If my teeth had not cracked by now from the détartrage, this would do it! I made a mental note to never again visit a French dentist in December when village pipes were nearly frozen.
I began to think up a list of improvements for my dentist, whose chair-side manner seemed lacking. In fact, so was his chair! This was the first dentist I'd known who operated standing up. For this, I was kept in an upright position, making it easy for the dentist to dash back and forth.
I wished he'd dash over to my left, to readjust the spit-sucker tube. Presently it was swallowing the inside of my cheek! Shouldn't it be resting on the bottom of my mouth? A pool of saliva was collecting there! Could I swallow it? Or would my mouth contract from the effort, sending that sharp drill toward my tongue. Eeek!
I reached up and unhooked the suction tube, using it to vacuum the floor of my mouth. I hoped not to offend the dentist, and acted as quickly and discreetly as possible before returning the tool to its hook--my inner cheek. Where else to put it?
Couldn't he use an assistant? But I remembered that dental care was different in France--where it isn't unusual to have an office of two: the dentist and the secretary. (In this case, my new dentist was the secretary.)
I began to think about my first visit chez le dentiste--back in the north of France, in Lille--in 1989. I was an exchange student then, used to a rigorous schedule. So when my I realized I was due for a check-up (it had been six months since I'd visited the dentist), I automatically made an appointment.
"What can I help you with?" the dentist wanted to know.
Well, he could begin by telling me where his office was. We seemed to be standing in his living room. Looking around, there were Persian rugs and antique furniture. The television blared from a far-off corner... and was that the delicious scent of pot-roast wafting over from an open door? A kitchen?
I still wonder if I am making this up, or if I really did traverse the dentist's living room to take a seat in the reclining chair (it was an authentic dentist's chair, and how it contrasted with the decor!).
The dentist fired up his drill...
"But shouldn't I have a shot?"
"To numb my mouth?"
"This won't hurt," he chuckled.
Amazingly it didn't. Maybe it was a small cavity? I don't know, but the experience remains a surreal memory and I feel somehow privileged to have seen what may have been the end of an epoch: bygone days when dentists did indeed work from home.
* * *
Back now in my new dentist's office, I am able to appreciate the modern surroundings. The equipment is clean, the room is tidy. No Persian rugs not even a Persian cat!
I decided to quit focusing on what was wrong with this visit, and, instead, to consider what might be wrong with the patient. I wasn't 20 anymore--back in the days when my teeth were strong enough to chew on beef jerky or tear into that classic French candy le carambar.
If I felt more pain than usual, it might have to do with how sensitive my teeth have become. Worse, after years of nocturnal teeth-grinding, the surface of my pearly-whites were, as the dentist noted, usés.
The good news was, Doc could replace my mouth guard (the one I lost in back in Phoenix). And so I held on tight for the last phase of the visit: the fitting.
The dentist disappeared into the lab behind me. Returning, I saw the gluey tooth mold. It had to be the size of a Smartphone....
"Whatever you do, don't bite down!" The dentist said. "Now breathe out of your nose."
...Or gag! I tried to relax as the giant mold--brimming with a thick gluey substance--filled my mouth. The back of my throat fluttered menacingly.
I focused on my breathing but the process ticked on and on. And then... was the dentist's hand shaking? Had I transferred my anxiety onto him?
No, I would not give in to the gag reflex! This was no time to panic or else we would both be mortified. (Just picture the mess!)
* * *
Those last 10 seconds really tested my mettle. I'm stronger than I think I am. I just won't go testing this theory on a tooth-shattering carambar.
How often do you go to the dentist? Or, are you like the French--only going for an emergency? To name today's cat photo, skip to the last picture... Thanks for your comments, here.
chez le dentiste = at the dentist's
aïe! = ouch!
le détartrage = teeth cleaning, descaling
Some of you asked, "How are the dogs getting along with the cats?" Here's a hint. (Note: Smokey is not sticking out his tongue. The hanging tongue is a sequelle or legacy from his accident years ago.
Here's Poncho and Lily. Want to name this photo? Click here.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety