As she sat in her dentist’s office, eight of her teeth newly yanked from her jaw, dentures painfully affixed to a mouth still gushing blood, Sylviane Boulesteix tried to figure out what had just happened to her.
Just a few hours earlier she’d gotten a call from the dentist’s office, letting her know that Doctor Jacobus Van Nierop was ready for her in the operating room. That surprised Boulesteix, the older woman told the French daily Le Journal du Centre and Agence France-Presse, because as far as she was aware there wasn’t anything wrong with her teeth — she just needed to have her braces fitted.
Confused but not yet concerned, she settled into the exam chair and waited for the only dentist in Chateau-Chinon, France, to tell her what was wrong.
Then, without warning, he made seven or eight injections into her gums, she recalled, then painfully pulled out eight teeth in one go.
‘‘After that I bled for three days,’’ she said, touching her cheek at the recollection. But when she went back to Van Nierop’s office, he refused to relieve her pain.
Van Nierop, a charismatic Dutch dentist who seemed the savior of Chateau-Chinon’s teeth when he arrived in the rural French village, turned out to be a ‘‘butcher,’’ residents claim. Now he’s on trial for the alleged mutilations of Boulesteix and some six dozen other patients over the course of four years, according to the Associated Press.
The list of complaints against Van Nierop is long: unnecessarily pulling teeth, misuse of anesthetic, overcharging patients, abscesses, procedures that left patients with infections or bits of tools remaining in their mouths.
‘‘It’s unthinkable, right?’’ Therese Zbinden, another plaintiff, told Le Journal du Centre. ‘‘We were mutilated and then that’s it. We live the consequences. Even if we are compensated.’’
The man the French media have dubbed ‘‘the dentist of horror’’ says he remembers only one of the 75 patients who say they suffered ‘‘mutilations’’ or ‘‘permanent disabilities’’ at his hands, according to the AP. He faces charges of international violence and fraud and could see 10 years in prison and a 375,000 euro ($413,000) fine if convicted.
Chateau-Chinon, a village of about 2,000 people 200 miles southeast of Paris in the Burgundy region of France, is located in what officials term a ‘‘medical desert,’’ according to the AP. Residents had to travel long distances for teeth cleanings, root canals, braces fittings, and the like. So when Van Nierop was bought in by a head hunter for the regional council in 2008, residents cheered his arrival.
Nothing in his credentials or his demeanor seemed to indicate that anything about him might be awry.
‘‘Nice copper plaque, modern practice’’ the French daily La Depeche described his offices.
Van Nierop himself was impressive, Nicole Martin told Le Journal du Centre. He had a rugby player’s solid build and an athlete’s outsized personality. A neighbor who declined to be named told La Depeche that he recalled the dentist ‘‘with huge things: a big 4X4, a large dog, a big cigar,’’ not to mention a large, luxurious house outside of town.
But Van Nierop’s smile was ‘‘mean,’’ said Martin, who says she lost two teeth and several hundred Euros to the dentist and is president of his victims’ association.
Speaking to AFP, Martin recalled how Van Nierop would knock patients out with what he claimed was just a ‘‘tiny prick’’ of anesthetic.
‘‘When it was over, we would find a Post-it note saying to come back for an appointment the next day or the day after,’’ she added.
What none of his patients knew was that Van Nierop was the subject of disciplinary proceedings in his own country, and had provided falsified documents to be allowed to practice dentistry in France, investigators told the AP.
But by 2013, French authorities had become suspicious of the Dutch dentist, as were his patients. With the help of one of Van Nierop’s assistants, scores of victims formed a group to help press charges. Van Nierop was arrested and then released pending trial.
Instead he skipped bail, fleeing to Canada, where he hid out in the village of Nackawic, News Brunswick. No one in the tiny community knew that their new neighbor was a wanted man, France’s English-language new site the Local reported.
He was eventually tracked down and extradited to the Netherlands and then to France.
Van Nierop has tried to block his prosecution on psychological grounds, the AP reported; the dentist claims he suffers from a borderline personality disorder that is complicated by the fact that he is transgender. He also says he has attempted suicide multiple times. During his imprisonment in France, Van Nierop has staged hunger strikes and once, before he was to be questioned by an investigating judge, swallowed several razor blades.
‘‘I’m totally blocked from the inside and I don’t want to explain it all,’’ he told the investigating judge, according to court documents cited by the AP ‘‘You can lock me up for years . . . it will not change.’’
Asked how he felt about the damage he allegedly did to his patients, though, Van Nierop was unmoved.
‘‘It does not affect me,’’ he said.