Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Behind Parisian Doors

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. Embedded in the bread 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 (not Dr Bernard) came to the reception area. He unwrapped Tim’s piece of tooth, held it up to the light and asked us to 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.

I wrote this after our trip to Europe almost 4 years ago now. It was published in the Globe and Mail in their travel section in August 2007. I was thinking about Paris recently and thought I'd share this little story on my blog.

When we arrived home, Tim went to his dentist who said the French dentist had done a great job and that he should wait until it broke again. Then a permanent crown would be applied. The tooth held for almost 10 months - until the day of my grandmother's funeral, when, at the luncheon afterwards, it snapped, and he once again kept his mouth firmly shut.


  1. What a story, I can't believe it didn't hurt! Thank goodness you were able to get it taken care of! I don't know what euros are to dollars but 95 doesn't sound too bad at least compared to what dentists cost here.

  2. You tell that story so well. Dental woes do pop up at the most inopportune times.

  3. You are such a good storyteller, Lorrie . . . even a broken tooth sounds like an adventure. And published in the Globe & Mail, woohoo!

  4. Well it help make it a memorable trip!!! Clarice

  5. I can see why the Globe and Mail snatched this story to publish Lorrie. That must have been such a feather in your cap! Belated congratulations! Glad to hear that Tim's tooth held for such a long time - he got value out of the temporary fix but it must have been upsetting at the time. Keep writing Lorrie!

  6. Great story...well, maybe not for Tim. But such a neat travel experience. And of course, I had to think of what just happened to us on our recent trip to Europe & then Kenya. Two days before we were set to fly to Kenya, our friend who we were traveling with broke off a molar. It was Friday night in London...and Sunday morning we would be flying to Africa. We had a full day of touring planned for Saturday...with a private tour operator. She phoned the tour guide...and by Saturday morning he mad made arrangements for her to see the dentist. We missed a few stops of our tour...but she had a tooth that was good for the rest of the journey! Sound familiar?

  7. Lovely post. You know how much I appeciated it.

    Must also comment how your Easter post moved me.

    Happy Easter to you and yours!

  8. I'm sure I would have read this on your return but interesting reading it again.
    Saturday mornings here would treat only emergencies so not many open. When I had an emergency once on a Saturday my dentist came and opened up especially.

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