April 29, 2008

An Inconvenient Tooth

Time is short this week so I'm posting something lighter - printed in the Globe and Mail last August.

Saturday morning in Paris. My husband, Tim, and I chatted over breakfast. A fresh baguette, crusty and warm, café au lait (for him) and chocolat (for me.)

We organized our day – breakfast, then laundry and a few hours of free time before boarding the TGV to Avignon.

Tim took a bite out of the chewy baguette. Snap. We both heard it. And there embedded in the bread like a journalist in Afghanistan, was Tim’s front tooth. He looked like he’d been in a bad fight, root exposed, jagged tooth front and center. Rick Steves hadn’t prepared us for this event.

“There’s two weeks of vacation left. I don’t want to keep my mouth closed the entire time,” Tim said. He fished the tooth from the bread and wrapped it carefully in a napkin. “We’ll have to find someone to glue it back on.”

The concierge at the desk of our small hotel assured us that there was a dentist just around the corner. He made the call and the dental receptionist asked to speak with Tim.

“Does it hurt, Monsieur?” she asked.

Upon hearing that the pain was negligible she spoke firmly. “It’s Saturday morning and we’re full. The dentist leaves at noon. Au revoir, monsieur.”

Apologetically the concierge said he knew of no other dentist but that he would check the yellow pages. He searched the computer for possible dentists on the nearby Boulevard Voltaire and handed us a piece of paper with numbers, 29, 40, 56, 75 and so on.

Laundry and sightseeing plans discarded, Tim tucked his tooth into his pocket and we set out to find a dentist. While we walked, I formed French sentences in my head. I hadn’t thought to brush up on my medical vocabulary.

Imposing stone buildings line Boulevard Voltaire. Tall doors in glossy green, blue or black stood firmly closed. In front of #29 a woman swept the sidewalk.

“Ah, non,” she said. “C’est samedi.” The dentist isn’t in.

We crossed the street and walked down to #40. The sign said, “By appointment,” but we pushed the button anyway. A buzzer sounded and we entered. I was relieved that I didn’t have to explain over the intercom. And surely any dentist with heart, seeing Tim’s predicament, would help.

Up the stairs and down the hall we pushed open another door. Dr. Josserand came to the reception area when we walked through the door. He unwrapped Tim’s piece of tooth, held it up to the light and assured us that he could help if we would wait for about 30 minutes. He had another patient with him.

With high ceilings, gleaming white woodwork, a fireplace and pale, floral-upholstered bergere-style chairs, the waiting room was unlike any other I’d seen. We paged through current issues of Cote Sud and Cote Ouest and gazed out the window onto the street below.

“Maintenant, on voit le canadien.” He ushered us into his treatment room. “We’ll see the Canadian now.”

The room shone with cleanliness. It appeared that liners could be purchased for older rooms to provide surfaces to match modern ideas of sterility without ruining the old architecture. The liner started at the floor on one side of the room, went up and across the ceiling, then down the other side, like a square tube. And white was everywhere – white chair, white counters, white floor and white desk. Stainless steel instruments gleamed. A touch-screen computer for the dentist’s convenience stood alongside his tools. There were no cute posters with huge teeth holding toothbrushes, no television screen mounted in the corner, no soft music playing. It should have been forbidding, but wasn’t. On one polished white surface stood a tall, rectangular clear glass vase holding two greenish-blue hydrangea blossoms. It looked so…French.

When we left the office 30 minutes later and 95 Euros poorer, Tim had his tooth back in place. Dr. Josserand advised us that this was not a permanent fix – he would have preferred to do a root canal and cap the tooth, but since it was Saturday morning… He shrugged.

While we’d come to France as tourists, I felt like this unwelcome and unanticipated experience gave us a tiny glimpse of Paris from the inside. Merci, Docteur Josserand.


  1. Wow.. I had a toothache this week and this made me feel less inclined to complain about my small problem! I can imagine you were glad this happened in France, not some other place in the world where a dentist's office would be a far cry from this great description.

    I took the liberty of editing this post, not removing or changing words (never, no way) but putting extra space between the paragraphs. It makes reading much easier, especially online! Hope you don't mind.

  2. Nope, I don't mind. In fact, I posted it the night before my assigned date, took a look at it and thought the same thing, but was too rushed to change it. I had all day meetings yesterday but I'm back home today. Thanks for doing this!

  3. Hi Lorrie,
    You might have had to wait longer in Canada for medical attention. Maybe it's good you were in France! Ha, Ha! Cute story.
    Pam M.

  4. Your wonderfully told story reminds me of a toothache I had while traveling in England. At least I didn't have a second language to struggle with.


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