how to cheer someone up in French
Grele: Solidarity during a devastating hailstorm at winemaker Raimond de Villeneuve's vineyard

How to say a "check-up" in French?

The golden light to the left is the sunset hitting the coastal fence. The golden light to the right is Smokey, enjoying our late afternoon walk.

une visite de contrôle

    : 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?"

"What for?"

"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.

French Vocabulary

chez le dentiste = at the dentist's
= ouch!
le détartrage = teeth cleaning, descaling 

Window panes
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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Hi Kristin, as far as some "check" is concerned, you can translate it : bilan.
Because a "visite de contrôle" could have been said : "check up visit". No ?
We do say, in french,....check-up, too, as you surely know ! But to speak more french, we often use this word, "bilan", and "bilan de santé" too for a certain amount of analysis made at the Lab or even at the Hospital. But for a check-up at the dentist's, we can only say... "contrôle".

Happy you are back !
I transfered your "hello" to Gwen & Emmanuel, before they left for their 3 weeks overseas (back very soon now).



Nice timing on this one Kristin...I'm going for le check-up in 2 hours! Usually not a problem apart from the "spit-sucker tube" which never seems to stay in the best place.


Fay Plauche' Butler

We hear you knocking but you can't come in".

anne wirth

Your photo was beautiful. At first I thought it was an Impressionist painting (well you did get an impression of Smokey).
Good to have you back. I enjoy your morning email so much.


Lee & Bill Mears

I agree with Anne about the Impressionist photo of Smokey. That looks like a lovely place for a walk. In another photo Smokey looks like he's saying to the cats "Come on out and play!"
I don't know why, but we all seem to dislike going to the dentist, even just for a checkup. As I read your post, I was right there with you in that chair gripping the armrests!
Peace, Lee



Love your post today...more inspiration for my paintings. I have almost finished my painting of your last photo with the kitties playing on your desk. You are going to get down on your knee´s and beg me for this one...maybe for your birthday!

I´m off now to paint your first photo - your friends are right your photography has evolved to the level of a impressionistic painting. You are my muse as always, I´m going to put you in the painting with Smokey.

I could of course share some outrageous stories of how I became my own denise when I lived in the jungle of Yelapa 16 years ago, but I´ve put that all behind me now.

I love you Honey...please call me...John is home today and we are enjoying the fresh breeze off the ocean...then off to the art supply store. So call now if you can.

Also, you should submit your story to a dental magazine.



Heather in Arles

Kristin, usually I love the immediacy of your writing, the feeling that I am right there with you. Today? Not so much! ;) I had an evil orthodontist when I was young and since I feel your pain. Glad that all went smoothly.

And I had never read about Smokey, beautiful Smokey, being attacked. Oh my goodness! So horrific. I had noticed his tongue hanging out in other photos but didn't give it much mind. How grateful I am to know that he is just fine now for he brings you all (and your readers too) so much joy.

Looks like the kitties are ruling the roost. I love Fay's caption!

Heather in Arles

PS. Wow is it beautiful there! I admit that since your move I occasionally look at real estate prices in Bandol. hehehe

Barbara Lynch

Going for a cleaning is torture! I've learned to take an aleve before, which helps. The molding procedure really is the WORST! ! the price to pay for your lovely smile!

Kathleen from Connecticut

I could definitely relate to the tooth mold. I too have to wear a guard at night because I grind my teeth and they are really worn down.
As for the teeth cleaning, I have a wonderful Dental Hygenist who is gentle ( once in a while it hurts) , but she is good and the saline rince is good.
Americans seem to go to the dentist more than most cultures and tend to the cleaning of their teeth.
The kitties look great and Smokey wants them to come out and play because Braise is busy doing something else and really doesn't want to play.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin...I love the golden light of sunset! Your first photo is beautiful. Looks like the kitties want to be outside with Smokey! I try to go to the dentist twice a year, just habit I guess and to get a good cleaning.


Kristin -- I agree with everyone else that your first photo caught my eye immediately. What a spectacular place for a daily walk. You do live in such a beautiful part of France.

And your description of being in the dentist's chair was PERFECT. I was right there with you -- the noise of the drill, the ice cold water, the seemingly huge plate of gluey, gray stuff, trying not to gag, etc. I force myself to go every six months and dread every one. Agree with Jules about submitting this one to a dental magazine. Love detartrage... what a word.

Bonne journee from cold, gray Nashville.

Marshall Brass

Hi.... I agree with earlier post, in every day French one would be more likely to say "bilan" or "bilan dentaire" than the more formal phrase presented for a check-up In addition, one would probably say
"nettoyage dentaire" for a cleaning, which is different than a scaling. Corrections welcome.


Hi Kristin,
Loved the photo of Smokey! Sounds like your dentist used a Cavitron ultrasonic scaler to clean your teeth :-)


Linda R.

good morning, Kristin. I chuckled through your description of the visit to the dentist, mainly because it wasn't me going through all the motions - it certainly brought back lots of memories of past visits - gagging reflex, tears in the eyes, the noise and smell of that grinding away - argh - everything and everything. Which reminds me ... time to make an appointment.

Beth Fiacco

Hey Kristin,

Your blog today was hilarious! How common are the thoughts of people while sitting in the dentist's chair?

Thanks for making me laugh today :-)



Bonjour! What a laugh I had on that first dental appt. you had in Lille! I can only imagine..i have my own share of memories that I am still not sure they actually happened as they seem so surreal after the years go by! Thank you for reminding us the French our as whacky as any others. I am just reading this horrible book called "La Seduction" by Elaine Sciolino. I feel like I want to strangle the next Parisian I see just because of this book!(should I be admitting this???)



I just noticed that the counter on your sidebar finally got it´s act together, wouldn´t it be wonderful if we could somehow help to move that number up to 46,000 for your 46th Birthday present. O.K. we are at 42,276 - I´m going to post your story on Facebook and ask everyone to please sign up for your blog today, so I can win this contest....oh, what should the prize be???? Does anyone else here want to rise to the challenge? Please figure out how we should do this and I will donate todays painting of the top photo of your post today to whoever wins. By the way todays painting is one of the best I have ever done. It is oil paint on paper and about 14 x 14. John thinks it ´s one of my finest. Just think if all of you French teachers could get your students out talking all of their friends into signing up. I think that would probably win the painting for your class.




Kristin- I doubt your dentist was using a drill. It was probably a sonic cleaner that to the uninitiated might look and sound like a drill. It's what our dentist in Paris uses. And unlike the US, there is no such thing as a "dental hygienist" - a dentist must perform the procedure. Also, if you want any sort of anesthetics, you have to go to a hospital for that! Dentists aren't allowed to provide anesthetics - only an anesthesiologist can do that!

Edie Schmidt

Bonjour Kristin:

Loved the story of the dentist in his living room with no pain killer.
I have a lovely lady dentist and previously a lovely Russian dental technician who was very thorough, but I still do not enjoy the whole experience!

Edie from Savannah

Paul Guerin

He's back... the doofus with his tongue hanging out...don't take your eyes off him!


Hi Kristi,greetings from Colorado!
I used to be a dental assistant when I lived in Boulder, and I remember well the "gluey tooth mold" we had to stick in people's mouth. It was not only gluey, but it had a strong odor also. Now you will have a nice new mouth guard, so it was probably all worth it.

Bo Brown

I can relate to the anxiety of dentist visits, I have to go every six months for the cleaning or else it's terrible. As is, it's not so bad if I've been keeping up with the flossing. Caption for the photo? How about, "Ah, ma petite Lily, regardez. Le chien. Il est solitaire. Ha hah." LOL.

Barbara Bottini

I can so identify with you and the trough that takes the impression of your teeth. It is huge, and seems to be twice as wide as your mouth. I had to undergo this "torture" as a youth when my parents generously paid for braces. Unfortunately, my teeth gradually regressed during my adult years and I chose to redo the braces. Alas I had to undergo the teeth impressions once again. Luckily, I was also able to avoid gagging, but the urge was quite strong. Kudos to both of us and all others who manage to survive dental services.


Just reading this made my mouth hurt & eyes water.

Diane Young

I go every 6 months to have the few remaining teeth cleaned and it's still as bad as ever. I think cleaning is worse than filling, etc. At leaat 2/3 of my teeth have been replaced with my upper and lower dental plates, which get cleaned in a plastic holder every night, Chemo over the years (12) in form of 3 tablets daily has decimated my teeth. Quelle domage!
Nobody likes going to the dentist, even though some of us really have nice, personable and up to the minute ones with the latest in equipment, for which I have paid in the thousands over the many years of being a patient.
Can't figure out the cat photo so I name it "Ques-que c'est? Smokey is my favorite.


Our dear Kristi,
Another wonderful (and entertaining!!)post that we all can associate with....visiting the dentist!Definitely NOT a fun experience,but alas,a necessary one.
You gave me inspiration for my own appointment on Friday!
For that and the beautiful pictures,THANK YOU!!

Bill Facker

My first dentist cringed at the sight of me, so my Mother has always related the story. Seems I nearly bit the poor man's thumb off during my first ever excursion to the "chair of doom". That dentists can look into the mouths of strangers, deal with nasty infections and halitosis, and suffer the indignation of a scared child chomping down and not letting to ... well, here's to 'em ... better them than me!

Bill Facker

JULES, thank you for pointing out the count of Kristin's current readership ... Wow!

CONGRATULATIONS ON THAT NUMBER, KRISTIN ... Just goes to show, true creativity and sharing from the heart are powerful forces of positivity!

Thank you for sharing your gift with all of us, Kristin ... And JULES, you ARE a gift! Aloha

Nancy, San Antonio, Texas

Hi Kristin - I go to the dentists every six months. Your mouth health effects your whole body. I was brain washed in a good way, early on - two Aunts and 2 Uncles where in the dental profession. I am 66 and my teeth are in great condition. However, your cleaning sounded rough. So sorry. Really missed your posts but happy that you had a break. Hope all works out well for your sister. The kitties are cute - are they in the window seat you had put in? Have a great evening - it is almost over for you. Sorry this is so late.

Joan Linneman

Our family calls the cleaning machine the "zudo ray." Hope you're enjoying the kitties. My son's method of dealing with his cat to keep her from scratching is to squirt her with water when she is scratching furniture, and she stops right away. Joan L.

Julie Schorr

Of all the things I have to do, going to my dental appointment is my least favorite! My dental plan does cover two cleanings per year, so I force myself to go and take advantage of the cleaning. I really dread it though. My teeth feel so sensitive and they always seem to hit the especially sensitive areas. I also have a hard time getting numb when they occasionally have to do a filling.
Your cats are so cute!! I love Pancho and Lily! Hopefully Braise and Smokey are being extra tolerant with them. Great to be reading your posts again!


Kittens are saying "uh oh, Smokey is stuck on the other side."


I, too was struck by the opening photo and thought it was a painting. Exquisite! You captured the dentist office experience to a 'T'. Great to have you back.

Just returned from Paris last night and in withdrawal! Joyeaux Noel!


Smoky says "yum!" :-)

His cute tongue :-) brought up "the-predator-in-me" type of thoughts !! :-) sorry, can't help it! :-)

Golgen picture with slanted trees - marvelous!! (Now it's an artist in me speaking!) And Smoky looks like a ball of light in this picture! Wonderful, Kristi! Thank you!


I have avoided to date the necessity of a night guard, but for me, even X-ray bite wings are a problem for the gag reflex. A trick my dental hygienist now uses is a bit of salt on the back of my tongue--don't know the biochemistry behind it, but it works. May also be part of the source of comfort from your early experience with salt water??

Betty Doolittle Tuininga

Oh Kristin, How I hate those trips to the dentist. While your subject matter was not the most elegant, it WAS well written. Your description, and sense of agony was well portrayed through your inner conversation.

I so felt empathy all through your experience. I unfortunately, being of meager means do not go to the dentist as often as I should. But like you, my gag reflex is very active. I often wonder if it is heighten due to my many years having suffered from an eating disorder.

Maybe it is worth trying the salt trick on the tongue...

Barbara Michels

Caption: "Mommie's little helpers". Perhaps you have a good French translation.

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