Did you know that one of the biggest stereotypes that other nationalities have about Americans is that we have bright, white teeth and smiles? Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought that that stereotype was a bad one– I’d rather have an attractive smile than an unattractive one In fact, although I have full healthcare and dental coverage in France, I still insist on paying for a full, all-American dental cleaning whenever I come back to the USA. Typically, a cleaning costs me $145 without insurance coverage, but for me, it is worth every single penny.
In comparison, Americans have an ongoing stereotype about the British– they have bad teeth. You can see this enhanced on multiple television shows, the most notorious being Family Guy.
Truth be told, I have a lot of British friends, I must say that, in general, I find their teeth to be superior to those of the French, due to several factors (most notably being the high number of smokers in France as well as the culture of never going to the dentist unless there’s a problem). That is not to say that ALL French and British people have bad teeth, or that ALL Americans have good teeth, but I beg you to please stay with me here as my story unravels.
Since arriving in France in 2013, I’ve gone to an array of dentists throughout various regions, and I must say that overall, I’m not impressed. Although the national insurance and my supplementary mutuelle fully cover les détartrages, or teeth cleanings, I find them to be less than satisfactory. It usually involves a simple scraping of tarter and gum examination, and with that I am on my way. France does not even supply the blue plastic floss threaders for the wires I wear on the back of my teeth to hold them together– I have to ship them from abroad.
In December 2015, I came home for Christmas and went in to get a dental cleaning. As I was still 25, I thought I was still covered under my parents’ insurance, and so when the hygienist insisted on doing x-rays (as mine were super outdated), I agreed. The dentist found four cavities– two major ones and two that were not as major. I agreed to have two of them filled in the USA (and long story short, I realized I was not covered under my parents’ insurance and therefore had to pay $450 out of pocket, so I said, “No problem, lesson learned, I’ll have the other two cavities filled in France.”)
When I came back to France in January, I scheduled an appointment with the dentist to inquire about my two cavities that my American dentist had found (I even had the numbers of the teeth to precise.) The French dentist listened to my story, took x-rays and low and behold, said, “Nope, you don’t have any cavities.”
“You must be mistaken,” I said, “I was told I have a cavity between tooth 14 and 15 on the upper left side.”
“Well,” he said, “You have maybe a little something, but it’s not enough to really treat. We don’t really do preventative care here in France.”
I was a bit flabbergasted, and annoyed and also a little bit angry. But who am I to argue with a professional?
I kind of put it behind me for awhile, and then when August 2016 rolled around, I went to a different dentist to get another détartrages (it had been 8 months since my last one in December.) I told the dentist the story about the previous French dentist I saw as well as my American dentist, and asked, “Can you please take x-rays to double check?” And when he took the x-rays, he found zero cavities.
Again, something didn’t sit right with me.
Are American dentists just in it for the money, and will try to get you and rip you off at every chance they get?
Or, are French dentists just incompetent, who are suffering from socialized medicine-based salaries, and will wait until the cavity becomes a root canal (and therefore more expensive) before treating a patient?
I came back to America a few days ago, and I scheduled a teeth cleaning at my dentist. I explained to him what happened with the two French dentists, and how I never got those two cavities filled. My American dentist proceeded to pull out last year’s x-rays and sternly told me, “No, you do have a cavity, it needs to be treated, and if it hasn’t been treated in over a year, it is now a much bigger problem than it was this time last year.” He then proceeded to bash socialized medicine, make comments about European people’s teeth compared to ours, amongst other things. Needless to say, I’ve now scheduled another appointment to get these cavities filled and pay $432 out of pocket, because I’m not convinced I can get them done in France, after I’ve tried twice.
I am from a very conservative area of Wisconsin, and socialized medicine is not a very highly regarded thing in the United States. For me living in France, the healthcare is affordable and it works, but then again, I am in general a healthy person. On the other hand, French dental care has now failed to meet my needs on more than one occasion; I have had two dentists refuse to treat or even acknowledge these cavities, and I am now paying out of pocket for what should normally be a relatively inexpensive procedure, because my teeth and their health are important to me.
Expats, have you ever come across this problem or this dilemma? Is socialized medicine really all it’s cracked up to be? Do we always get the treatment we need, or are teeth just highly disregarded across the pond? What would you do in my situation? Leave a comment below, and keep it civil!