This article originally appeared on VICE France
If you're anything like me, the mere mention of an appointment with the dentist stirs up a whole array of anxieties. The news about the existence of Jacobus "Mark" Van Nierop, better known as the "horror dentist" or the "butcher dentist", has done little to change that. This Dutch dentist moved to Château-Chinon in 2008 and subsequently hacked at the mouths of hundreds of patients who thought that they were receiving the appropriate care for their dental problems. He fled to Canada after his initial arrest in France in 2013, but was arrested again in New Brunswick a little over a year later. On Tuesday, he was sent to prison for eight years by the criminal court of Nevers, and was banned for life from practising as a dentist.
It began in 2008 when Mark Van Nierop set up his dental practice in Château-Chinon, in the department of Nièvre. At first, he was welcomed as a saviour by a region bearing the brunt of the medical desertion of the French countryside. But word spread quickly about his brutality and his medieval methods, the effects of which are still being felt by his patients. None of the victims were aware of the fact that he had been banned from working as a dentist in the Netherlands. With the trial now over, his patients can begin to process the horror they endured over a number of months. Sylviane Boulesteix is one of these victims – she kindly agreed to talk to us about her story.
VICE: Could you tell me about your first appointment with Van Nierop?
Sylviane Boulesteix: I went to go see him in January 2012, I was already retired at the time. I hadn't been to the dentist for a number of years and since my previous dentist had retired, Van Nierop was the only one available in the area. During that first appointment, he immediately said he wanted to replace all my teeth. I was offered a price estimate, photos, everything. Right at the beginning of the consultation he injected me with something – he said it was "to rebuild my teeth". It was very painful. When he made a mould of my teeth, it felt like he was trying to rip my jaw apart. But once you're in that chair you're less inclined to ask any questions.
At that point you didn't suspect anything?
No! It's a small village and people are usually suspicious of strangers, but I didn't want to listen to what people where saying. And a former colleague of mine had had an appointment with Van Nierop, which had gone over well. His surgery looked perfectly normal: a waiting room with magazines and chairs set out along the walls. A receptionist in a white blouse who was neither particularly nice nor particularly rude, and an assistant to help him out. It all seemed functional and clean. He even had a nice bronze plaque with his name engraved on it. How are you supposed to suspect anything with all of that?
"He took out eight teeth at once and went out to have lunch with his assistant, leaving me to bleed all over the chair."
What happened after that first appointment?
After two already very painful sessions, the receptionist called to tell me to come to the surgery so that the dentist could replace some of my teeth with dentures. Again, I trusted him, but it was horrific. He injected anaesthesia in my gums eight times, so I couldn't feel or move three quarters of my face. I found it hard to breath. He then took out eight teeth at once and went out to have lunch with his assistant, leaving me to bleed all over the chair. When he got back, he tried to make a joke of it by asking: "Would you like a little sandwich, Madame?". I was there for hours, and kept bleeding for three days after the fact. And it left me in a vicious circle: I was in so much pain that I had to go back to see him. My gums were infected, so he took out the dentures to give them a chance to heal. After those appointments the surgery suddenly closed.
What was your first impression of this man?
I found him quite nondescript. He was built like a rugby player and didn't have a great grasp of French, but enough to be understood. He was quite curt in his way of doing things but, again, when you're lying back in a dentist chair with your mouth open you don't really ask questions. His approach was brutal, but deep down you just think: he's a dentist. Dentists are rarely gentle and pleasant. And he did everything to put me at ease, he was pretty likeable. It wasn't until he had his dentistry tools in his hands that he revealed himself to be a torturer.
Do you think that he took some sort of pleasure in making his patients suffer?
No, I don't think so. In hindsight, I think that he was just there to make money off of honest people. You always had to pay 40 percent of the cost of the treatment in advance. I didn't have enough money, so I had to borrow it – I'm still paying it back today.
Have you seen a dentist since then?
I didn't have a choice, considering the state he left me in. For nearly a year and a half I was toothless. I couldn't eat solid foods. I had always been completely trusting of doctors and medical treatments, but now it's more complicated. When I go to see a doctor now,I always have a knot in my stomach. We try to rebuild our lives as best as we can, but we'll never be able to forget. I'll be wearing dentures for the rest of my life because of him.
Did you feel abandoned during everything that happened?
By medicine, yes. There aren't any family doctors in the French countryside anymore, it's completely deserted here. There's one doctor who comes around once every two weeks. I don't have a car and no internet. What am I supposed to do? Thankfully we were recognised as victims and we'll receive compensation.
What was being at the trial like?
I was shaking when I saw him. He didn't say anything. To every question that the prosecutor asked him, he replied: "I don't remember" or "I can't comment on that." He seemed completely disconnected from reality. I'm very happy it's over.
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