Les dents de la mer

It was a standing joke. ‘Les dents de la mer’ (literally: ‘The teeth of the sea’) was the French title of the 1975 Spielberg movie, ‘Jaws’. If you’re old enough to remember it, and you’re anything like me, you can still never swim in any open water without imagining the terror lurking below.

Some years ago, when my late Belle-Mère needed to have several teeth replaced and the whole thing turned into a bit of a drama – not just the pain and suffering but the expense of implants – my husband had fun with it.

“Les dents de la mère,” he would say, whenever the topic came up. Mother’s teeth.

Now the joke is on me.

Last week I went in to the dentist to see about having a crown replaced on a tooth that had a cavity underneath it. I knew there were issues as the gum was inflamed, so I was prepared for a bit of an ordeal.

It started out well enough. Even though my dentist here in Switzerland, who speaks English and German, turned out to be French. Which I learned just after telling him that it was no surprise the crown wasn’t great — I’d had it done in France.

“Don’t trust French dentists,” I added.

“I’m French,” he said brightly. “So they can’t be all bad!”

The crown came away with a wiggle and a tug which, while I was relieved, was apparently not a good sign. Then began a lot of drilling and poking around, until the dentist announced that the tooth could not be saved; there was too much decay. It would need to come out and later we would look at an implant, if I could afford it, or a bridge. I wasn’t very thrilled but I was all juiced up with the freezing. Might as well finish the job now, I conceded reluctantly.

Then the real fun began. I’m not sure that dentist knew what he was getting himself into. These old teeth of mine have proven tough to extract before. The last time was a lower wisdom tooth. It finally agreed to come out only after the dentist, a tall man, practically had to brace his leg against the chair. I had a large bruise on my jaw for a week.

This time it was an upper molar, thankfully not visible from the front as it will be a gaping hole for several months. But it was tricky and took a long time to get out. By the time it was over I was a little shell-shocked. They sent me home with an anti-bacterial mouthwash and paracetamol. The dentist advised me that I’ll have to wait three months to see about an implant.

Several days later, sweaty and exhausted, I wondered if an infection had set in. I had a permanent dull headache, swollen gums and pain that radiated into my cheek and jaw. When I returned yesterday, Dr Dents removed the stitches but said I would need antibiotics for the infection.

“You should have called. I could have given them to you earlier.”

Which I wouldn’t have needed to do had you prescribed them in the first place, I thought but didn’t say. I’m all for preventing anti-microbial resistance, but given the tooth was already infected it might have been wiser to get it cleared up from the outset.

I guess the jury is still out on French dentists. But the good news is, I’m already feeling much perkier after two days of meds.

How do you feel about dental care? Have you ever had a ‘dent contre’ (literally, a tooth against, or in English, a bone to pick) with a dentist?


  1. margaret21 · May 26, 2022

    Ha! Our love affair with France never extended to its dentistry. We called out local dentist ‘The Butcher of B******’and only visited him once. Instead, we came back to England or went to Spain for treatment, as all the other local dentists we could find we’re just as bad as the B from B. Good luck with your own treatment.

    • MELewis · May 28, 2022

      Thanks! Feeling better as the infection clears up. So funny about your experience with the local French dentist. Definitely looking into to different options for the implant. Prices are steep in Switzerland but teeth are the one area where the investment is a no-brainer.

      • margaret21 · May 28, 2022

        Exactly. Nobody wants to eat their way through life on baby food.

  2. Dale · May 26, 2022

    I have had lots of work on my mouth. From rotten baby molars being capped, to orthodontic work to root canals. Luckily, all my dentists have been on the up and up… What an ordeal for you! Seriously, why the hell didn’t he prescribe anti-biotics – just in case! I know, rhetorical question. Sorry you had to go through all that.

    • MELewis · May 28, 2022

      Oh dear Dale, sounds like you have teeth like mine! I also had a lot of work and from a young age, and mostly great experiences with dentists in Canada. As for the antibiotics…🤷‍♀️ Don’t like to take any drugs I don’t have to, but no point in suffering needlessly either.

      • Dale · May 28, 2022

        Oh joy, oh bliss…😏
        And I’m with you on antibiotics – only when most necessary!

  3. Suzanne et Pierre · May 26, 2022

    I don’t particularly like going to the dentist but I feel that it is a necessary evil as teeth are rather important. I only went once to the dentist while living in France for a broken tooth. His repair work didn’t last and it was redone by my new Canadian dentist. Though my new dentist admitted that it was tricky work and that the French dentist had done what he could… I am missing a tooth in the back of my lower jaw and I never got an implant so my upper teeth keeps growing which is a bit of a problem. Pierre does have a few implants and he didn’t find it too much trouble to get it done though it is a long process. Good luck with everything (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · May 28, 2022

      Good to know about your experiences with dentists both in Canada and France. Glad to hear that Pierre was able to get implants done without too much pain. As for French dentists, I think the problem comes from the fact that most of them operate independent ‘cabinets’ without admin or technical support. And French people generally resent the fact that dental work is poorly covered by their ‘Sécurité Sociale’, and are often unwilling to invest in their teeth. But I’m with you — teeth are too important to neglect!

  4. Becky Ross Michael · May 26, 2022

    I hate everything to do with dental care! One time I went to have my new crown placed, and the dentist had his arm in a cast and sling. His fill-in daughter (supposedly a dentist, as well) couldn’t get my temporary crown off. Her father ended up having to do it with sling/cast and all! He wasn’t happy, as if it was my fault! Then the new crown was horrible, and a different one had to be ordered. Can’t remember if I wore that one for a while or if they put the temporary one back on. Terrible experience, and I never went back to that dentist!!!

    • MELewis · May 28, 2022

      Ah, poor you! 😫 Your experience sounds like a nightmare that would put anyone off dentists. Interesting that this type of thing can happen anywhere, even in the US! Hopefully you have found a good dentist now. I have poor teeth so take good care to go regularly for checkups even if it’s not much fun.

      • Becky Ross Michael · May 28, 2022

        Yes, I force myself to go and do like my current dentist better:)

  5. acflory · May 26, 2022

    Ugh. Commiserations, big time. I hate going to the dentist, any dentist. I hope your infection clears up quickly. 😦

    • MELewis · May 28, 2022

      Thanks! Seems to be clearing up, although it’s hit me harder than I expected. It seems that going to the dentist is not popular with many people. I do hope you’re able to get dental care despite the risk from Covid.

      • acflory · May 28, 2022

        Gah…knock on wood! I had to go a lot in the two years before Covid but nothing since. I pray it stays that way.

      • MELewis · May 29, 2022


  6. Vanessa in France · May 27, 2022

    I sympathise. My husband has recently had to have a lot of dental work, but we seem to have found a good dentist, so fingers crossed. He did some minor work on my teeth a few years ago, and I’ve had no trouble with it. I hope your infection subsides quickly and Bon courage for the continuing work.

    • MELewis · May 29, 2022

      I’m feeling much better, thanks! Living in rural southwestern France, I guess you are grateful to have good dentist nearby. Sounds like your husband is putting his skills to the test! I’m sure there are lots of good dentists in France, along with many trying to patch up years of neglect on a budget.

  7. Ally Bean · May 27, 2022

    I’m glad you’re feeling better, but you have to wonder why you needed to go through extra pain before getting your meds. I cannot speak to whether French dentist are good, but I can sympathize with pain. Less is better than more.

    • MELewis · May 29, 2022

      Right? An ounce of prevention…just makes sense. I am self-employed so no sick pay but would definitely have booked off work otherwise. Thankfully things are slow in the merry month of May holidays around here!

  8. Colin Bisset · May 28, 2022

    I’m blessed with a lovely, gentle dentist at the moment. It used to amuse me how my dentist in England would shake his head at previous dental work I’d had in Wales, and say, ‘Tsk… Welsh dentistry’. And then I moved to Australia and my new dentist shook his head and said, ‘Tsk… English dentistry.’ I have noticed, though, that people have better teeth here than in Britain so maybe that criticism is right…

    • MELewis · May 29, 2022

      It does seem to be a thing that dentists slag each other off! I’ve had this experience several times which is probably why I adopted it myself, almost defensively waiting for the new dentist to criticize the predecessor’s work. I am not blessed with the best teeth but have always done my best to take care of them. Here’s hoping my current set will see me through a few more years (optimistically: decades) of happy chomping!

  9. midihideaways · May 28, 2022

    I love my French dentists!! I guess I’ve been lucky, both of them were/are very good (the first one retired!). On the other hand, I could tell you some stories about British dentists – how long have you got?? 🙂

    • MELewis · May 29, 2022

      You are lucky indeed to have a good dentist in France! Here in Switzerland at least there are plenty of options nearby, and clinics with dental hygienists who do a great job of cleaning. It seems that UK dentists don’t have the best reputation — feel free to share your horror stories!

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