07 October 2014

Dental woes and joys (part 4)

To be fair, I have to say that the dentist I wrote about yesterday has a very good reputation. Some English friends who live across the river from us swear by him. They say he will always immediately see a patient who is in an emergency situation, and he does excellent work. You just have to be patient to be his patient.

I mentioned earlier that I had a very bad experience with a dentist in Paris when I was much younger (in 1980 or'81). It's a long, gruesome story, but here are the essentials. I experienced pain and swelling around a tooth that had a crown on it. The gold crown had cost me a fortune 7 or 8 years earlier, at a time when I wasn't rolling in money (I was a grad student in Illinois at the time), and the dentist who did the original work told me there was a slight risk that the tips of the roots of that tooth could one day cause me trouble.

Friends in Paris recommended that I consult their family dentist, who they liked and respected. I made an appointment — it was Christmastime. When I went to the dentist's office near the Pompidou Center, I learned that he had taken time of for the holidays and left his patients in the hands of a young substitute. He was the one who saw me.

After listening to my story, he said he was going to pull the tooth with the gold crown on it. I protested. The original dentist had told me that shouldn't be necessary if something did flare up. The substitute dentist then said that it was possible that the pain and swelling was coming from the tooth right in front of the crown. He would work on that one.

He proceeded to drill a hole in the tooth and started to do a root canal (called une dévitalisation in French). He didn't give me any anesthetic before he started drilling and then poking around in the innards of the tooth with a needle of some kind. The pain was excruciating, and again I squawked. (Remember the film Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and the sadistic dentist?) In my case, the substitute dentist basically called me a sissy and stopped what he was going.

He said I should go away for a week, which would be time enough for the nerve in that tooth to die. I think he stuffed a little piece of gauze into the hole he had drilled, but he didn't otherwise seal it. He said that when I came back a week later, if I wasn't better, he was going to pull the tooth with the gold crown on it. By the way, the dentist was not a Frenchman. He spoke French, and I don't remember his name, but he wasn't French by birth, and I of course don't know where he was trained.

I spent a miserable week. The gauze fell out of the damaged tooth after 24 hours, and every breath of air I took through my mouth, every cold or hot liquid I drank caused more excruciating pain. The swelling wasn't going down. I obviously wasn't getting better. Toward the end of that horrible week, I made the decision to take the bus out to the American Hospital in Neuilly, west of Paris, and consult a dentist there.

That dentist was French, I might add. I had gone to the American Hospital once before, a few years earlier, to see a dentist, so I knew it was a possible solution. The dentist there examined me, and was shocked to see what condition I had been left in. He gave me a shot of novocaine, finished the root canal, patched up the tooth, and then prescribed antibiotics.

He also said he didn't want to slander a colleague, but that I had been the victim of unethical practices. The substitute dentist had "devitalized" (killed) a perfectly health tooth, and for no good reason. The antibiotics he prescribed would cure the infection that had started the whole episode. And they did. In a few days, I was back to normal.

I went back for the appointment with the substitute dentist and told him I had consulted another dentist, who had repaired the botched job he had inflicted upon me. The substitute threw a fit, almost a tantrum, and told me I had no right to see another dentist when I was in the middle his course of treatment! He said it was the dentist who saved me who had behaved unethically. It was surreal.

To be continued...


  1. Wow! You shoulsd have sued that butcher!

  2. like my grandfather used to say (and he was a ent doc) half of all doctors (and dentists i might add) are in the bottom half of their class....sounds like yours didnt even go to dental school

  3. I'd be phobic for life after an experience like that. What a sadist!

  4. Reading these episodes having just had a difficult crown and continued sensitivity with a couple of teeth is making me feel your pain. You had pure torture treatment in Paris.

    1. The dentist at the American Hospital told me back then that the real danger in the situation I was in was the risk of a severe infection because of the open wound the dentist left me with. I guess I was lucky. I hope you are lucky too, E., with your dental work.

    2. Thanks, Ken! Our teeth are an important part of our overall health.


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