WE’RE ALL GUILTY OF IT. Just the other day the sweet receptionist at the dentist office I’ve been going to since I was five called me up. She was checking to see if I could make a teeth-cleaning appointment. I agreed on the time, only to reschedule days later for an indefinite time in the year. I’m just too busy, I said to myself. But is that the only reason I put off the visit? Like it or not, we as a species seem to have an apprehension for the dental chair, more so than, say, the operating table. Hollywood and the silver screen only seem to compound the problem. While there are a handful of movies that play to our fears of the doctor’s office—what was Hannibal Lecter really a doctor of, anyway—it’s fair to say the overwhelming majority of doctors portrayed in TV and film are championed for their heroic nature. On the other hand, dentists repeatedly get a less-than-flattering rap as sadists, oddballs and promiscuous operators. For every McDreamy there is a Stu Price. In 2009’s now infamous The Hangover, Ed Helms plays the hapless if not endearing neighborhood dentist—except in this case with a serious wild streak. When Stu wakes up at Caesars Palace conspicuously missing a front tooth (and his dignity), we all feel his humiliation, even if it was the result of a self-inflicted tooth pulling. The slapstick comedy inherent in this scene harkens back to the eras of WC Fields or The Three Stooges. Dentist humor
at its best—or worst—involves quite a bit of laughing gas, so to speak, poking fun at the audience’s fear and general displeasure of any toothrelated pain by turning the dentist into a hopeless fool. We laugh at our own fears cleverly disguised in wacky hijinks. Our innate fear of having our teeth pulled is primordial; like arachnophobia, or any fear of creatures big or small, our ancestors probably had very good reason to follow their instincts, in this case preserving the most important body part that would ensure their survival: teeth. There are, of course, movies that exploit this uneasy feeling in much darker ways. The most iconic of which is Marathon Man. With a nod to Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, the revenge thriller directed by John Schlesinger terrorizes our imagination. How horrible did the threat of dental torture make the
ambiguous “Is it safe?” repeatedly asked by Laurence Olivier as a Nazi war criminal? And then what transpires to Dustin Hoffman’s character is even more terrible. And how can anyone forget the last, seemingly impossible place Nemo must escape from—a dentist’s office, go figure—in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, or the metal dentures of James Bond antagonist Jaws? That last one might actually be a dentist’s worse nightmare. The point is that dentists are people too, and they are well aware of this misconception that they are monsters. But not only are they sensitive to our fears, assuaging them when possible; they’re also committed to their patients, and it’s their goal to make sure we have healthy and clean teeth. When you think about it, a perfect smile is a defining feature on a person. So let’s start giving dentists credit where it’s due, myself very much included.
Healthy Living • 2014