Healthcare: Dentists in France

A trip to a French dentist can cause as much pain as the toothache you are trying to have treated, but you have other options, as Samantha David explains...

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French dentists were acknowledged world leaders in the newly emerging discipline of dentistry; they were amongst the first to champion daily brushing, and pioneered amalgam fillings in the early 1800s.

They were also amongst the first dentists to explore methods of straightening teeth. The Dentist’s Art, written in 1957 by French dentist, Bourdet, was one of the first modern reference books published on orthodontics.

Is it ironic then, that so many British expats today moan about French dentists. The complaints range from old-fashioned methods through to sheer incompetence, one expat even complaining that his French dentist had advised him to whiten his teeth by rubbing a slice of lemon on them.

It has to be admitted, however, that complaints about British dentists also abound, so perhaps the horror stories should be taken with a pinch of salt.

What is undoubtedly true is that there is a different cultural expectation of dentists in France, and many French people recommend practitioners purely on the basis that they cure toothache efficiently and don’t inflict further pain. While this is obviously important to everyone, the British are perhaps more used to a pro-active approach, expecting preventative care including regular check-ups, gum-treatments and visits to a hygienist for in-depth cleaning.

There is perhaps also a different expectation in aesthetic terms. Most British people want their treatment to be as invisible as possible and they want to keep their own teeth as long as possible. Not for them the silver- and gold-coloured crowns, amalgam fillings and missing teeth which some French people appear to take in their stride.

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It also appears that French dentists are fonder of crowns than British dentists: many will refuse to repair large fillings, saying that a crown is a more permanent solution. So in this situation, many people prefer a second opinion from their British dentist. This can also be a cheaper option, as getting a filling replaced or patched up in the UK is rarely going to cost as much as a French crown at €1,000, even including flights.

These different attitudes may go some way to explaining why so many British people have difficulty in finding a French dentist. The only way is to ask around – and beware a recommendation from someone with bad teeth or conspicuous dental work. Dentists are free choice and you can go to a different one each time if you like, so if you aren’t happy after your first visit, you can shop around.

As for finding a hygienist in France, it simply isn’t possible for the simple reason that the profession isn’t formally recognised in France, periodontal treatment being carried out by dentists who have chosen to specialise in this field (parodentists). So finding someone who offers this treatment is a matter of ringing round asking dentists if they also practice parodontologie.

In larger towns many expats favour finding a dentist from the UK or the US, and more than one person has tracked down a treasure using Google. American and South African dentists in particular seem to have very good reputations amongst expats, and if you decide to go down this route, you’d probably be best off contacting a local American cultural/social association or perhaps your local American library and asking if they can recommend someone.

Times are gradually changing however. L’Union Fran�aise pour la Sant� Bucco-Dentaire runs a dental education programme within schools and workplaces, involving visual inspections by volunteer dentists, and the distribution of toothbrushes and toothpaste. It is also possible to buy dental floss almost everywhere in France now, although disclosing tablets (to highlight plaque still remaining after brushing) and dental tepees (miniature brushes for cleaning between the teeth) are still more difficult to track down.

When it comes to x-rays, you will probably have to ask for them as French dentists tend to use them to track down the source of toothache, rather then a way of checking that there is no hidden decay. You may also have to take a prescription for x-rays to a specialist centre where you’ll be x-rayed by a machine which moves around your whole head giving a picture of the entire mouth. There is some debate about whether the x-rays from these machines are better or worse than those obtained using traditional dental wings, but they certainly are popular with the sort of French people who like their treatments to be as space-aged as possible.

Finding a good orthodontist seems to be much simpler than finding a dentist, their procedures and treatments (aligning teeth, mainly by fitting children with braces) being comparable to those in the UK and the US. Treatment is expensive though, and only about 30 per cent is reimbursed by the state, so you’ll either need a good mutuelle (top-up health insurance) or deep pockets. Think in the region of €3,000 to align the teeth on the top jaw over 2/3 years.

The good news is that opticians and ophthalmologists are excellent in France: eye-tests are carried out by specialist doctors in clinics rather than in optician’s shops, and are reimbursed. Glasses are made in optician’s shops but are hardly reimbursed at all unless you have a mutuelle. If your prescription is going to be expensive however, some opticians can advise on ways of lowering the cost – by using your old frames, for example.


This dossier article is intended as a general guide only. For specific information relative to your own situation, please use the contact details in the factfile. The information given here was correct at the time of publication. However, if you notice a gremlin causing typos or any other inaccuracies, do please let us know.