top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
arrow down

Why going to the dentist in France is a lottery

The French healthcare system encourages dentists to recommend expensive treatments that are often unnecessary, says Samantha David

Because French dentists get paid very little for basic dentistry, they try to persuade their patients to have more radical treatments Pic: Prostock studio / Shutterstock

A dentist named Lionel Guedj was jailed for eight years in September for performing unnecessary dental work on his patients – to such an extent that he is estimated to have mutilated thousands of people in Marseille where he worked. 

Read more: French dentists jailed for mutilating hundreds of patients

Read more: What can I do if I receive substandard dental treatment in France?

So when I chipped a filling during a press trip to Marseille, I was hesitant about getting an emergency dental appointment. 

But I have glass teeth, and from experience I know that an untreated chip could easily become a broken tooth. 

So, having scoured Doctolib for an appointment, off I went to an address near the old port. 

Initially, my fears were confirmed. The dentist took an X-ray and said he could not possibly mend my chipped filling. The entire tooth was dodgy, he said, and I needed a crown. In fact, my whole mouth was in dire shape. 

French dentists are paid peanuts for simple jobs such as a check-up (€23), simple filling (€16.87), or a clean and de-scale (€28.92). Even something as painstaking and tricky as a root canal only costs €33.70. An extraction costs €33.44. 

How can dentists make a living from such pathetically low prices? 

How can dentists make a living from such pathetically low prices? 

The answer is they can’t. They avoid those types of appointments like the plague and, if obliged, carry out the treatments in record time. I once had a scale and polish which took less than six minutes! 

Instead, they try to persuade patients to have more radical treatments, for which they are allowed to set their own prices: crowns, bridges, inlays.* 

As a system, it kind of works. Except that crowns last around 20 years before needing to be replaced, and you can only replace crowns once or twice before you need an implant. Once you start on radical dentistry, it’s never-ending. 

Extractions for people who cannot pay for crowns are another frequent solution. It solves the toothache but opens up a host of other problems. Remove one tooth from a row and all the others will shift out of place and the mirror tooth above or below the gap will have no twin to chew with, meaning that tooth also becomes more fragile. 

Minor infections in teeth and/or gums are strongly connected to heart disease. Anyway, I was thinking all this but didn’t say any of it. I just explained that as I was only in Marseille for a few days, 

I had hoped for a temporary dressing until I could get an appointment with my own dentist, who is a believer in conservative treatments to preserve natural teeth. 

We talked about it for a while, and the stupidity of the government’s pricing policy, and then he cleaned the tiny chip in my tooth, disinfected it, filled the gap and polished the new surface. 

I was thrilled, but also lucky. 

Not all French dentists would have done such meticulous work for the measly sum of €16.87. 

*Editor’s note: It is now possible to get free crowns and bridges through the 100% Santé scheme if you have a mutuelle. Dentists must state on any quote if a free option is available, but are not required to do the work themselves.

Related articles

Three month wait, 50km away: Your experiences finding a French dentist

French village’s comic advert to find dentist highlights wider issue

French dental service is ‘fundamentally flawed’, says ex NHS dentist

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Healthcare in France*
Featured Help Guide
- Understand the French healthcare system, how you access it and how you are reimbursed - Useful if you are new to the French healthcare system or want a more in-depth understanding - Reader question and answer section Aimed at non-French nationals living here, the guide gives an overview of what you are (and are not) covered for. There is also information for second-home owners and regular visitors.
Get news, views and information from France