dentures lying on beach

Bridgework Over Troubled Waters

While rare, things don’t always go as planned on incentive programs.

This particular incident happened over two decades ago, but the memory of it is as crisp as freshly ironed cotton sheets because, quite frankly, in over 30 years of planning and overseeing incentive trips, this was–and remains–a first. It involved a gregarious, hilarious French Canadian and his teeth.

We took a group of 300 attendees (which included the French Canadian man, who we will call Francois) on a one-week dealer incentive trip to Barbados. It was a week full of sun and fun, including an excursion on the Jolly Roger.

If you’re not familiar with Jolly Roger cruises, a website sums it up with three telling verbs: “Eat… drink… party!” More specifically, it’s a sailing cruise with calypso music, dancing, snorkeling, food, and as you might suspect, rum punch.

It was the perfect setting for Francois, who already stood out as a life-of-the-party kind of guy, and was very popular among the attendees. On the second day of our week-long program, we set sail on the Jolly Roger from the pier at Bridgetown across the aquamarine Caribbean Sea. Music was pumping, food and drinks were circulating amongst some of the guests, while others were following Francois, who was leading a dance train; everyone was having a great time. After about one hour, we stopped for a swim and snorkel. Francois, one of the first in, dove from the ship’s platform with a big whoop and an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

But when he surfaced, he was no longer smiling. His lips were pressed tight in a line of worry. His movements were frantic. He seemed to be searching the water as if he’d lost something. Anthony, our company president and one of the trip leaders, threw Francois a mask and snorkel and dove in. At first Anthony had no idea what was wrong. What was Francois looking for? Anthony studied Francois’ face for clues, and suddenly realized: His bridgework was missing. Francois’ entire set of teeth, both uppers and lowers, were gone.

Searching for teeth in the ocean was like looking for Atlantis. Still, Anthony and Francois looked. And looked. But to no avail. There was no more “Jolly” in Jolly Roger as word circulated about Francois’s missing teeth. The normally happy-go-lucky, outgoing party guy was now utterly despondent. He would not even crack the smallest of smiles. He would not open his mouth; he stopped speaking.

As soon as we docked back at the pier, one of our staff, Ron Boudreau, beelined to our hotel to ask for a referral to a trusted dentist. The very same day, we escorted Francois to a local specialist who took measurements and promised to rush it.

The next morning the group was in meetings. Francois attended, but sat silent throughout looking sad and deflated. All that changed on the following day when the dentist’s office called with good news: the new bridgework was ready!

Anthony drove Francois to the office for the fitting and waited, hoping that the new uppers and lowers were suitable. Soon, Francois emerged with his arm around the dentist, grinning from ear to ear. The teeth looked…well, huge actually. And so bright they almost glowed. But they fit and they were comfortable and Francois loved them.

Upon returning to the hotel, he wasted no time parading his new pearly whites, which received hoots and howls from his fellow group members. For the remaining days of the trip Francois ate everything and joined in every activity–and he did it all with a big (and we mean big), bright smile.

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