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?

Les dents qui courent après le bifteck

Photo credit: Louise Pierga, artiste créatrice de concepts visuels

After the dramatic events of this week in Paris, it’s time for some comic relief. One of my favourite French expressions provides plenty of that.

Let’s unpack this phrase in all its illustrative glory.

As you will see from the delightful drawing above, ‘les dents’ are teeth, an easy enough translation for anyone familiar with the dentist. The ones pictured here are an orthodontist’s delight (or nightmare) as they are veering off at an unhealthy forward angle.

Pictured next to the teeth, towards which they might be said to run or ‘courir’, is a piece of beef. For further clarity, the distance needed to ‘parcourir’ is also shown.

Why the French refer to steak as ‘bifteck’ remains a mystery to me. Just as why they refer to roast beef as ‘le rosbif’ and even more curiously, why the Brits are called les rosbifs. Is it revenge for the French being called frogs?

This blog for English learners (in French) provides some good answers to that question: roast beef is a traditional English dish, the British soldiers traditionally wore red coats and the fair-skinned English tend to turn bright red in the continental sun. (Ironically, though, Brits are not known for enjoying meat rare enough to be that red!)

So, back to our analysis of the French expression. The translation is: teeth that run after the roast beef. In other words, buck teeth. I love it because it is so colourful and immediately creates a funny word picture of what is being described. As the French would say, c’est très imagé.

Whether or not this implies that Brits are very hungry or they tend to have buck teeth, I shall not venture to say. You have not grown as long in tooth as I have without learning to keep dangerous opinions to yourself.

By the way, the English expression ‘long in the tooth’ does not translate in French. ‘Avoir les dents longues’ means to be ambitious.

Do you have a favourite French expression?