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Dentists In The Media: Why Can't We Be The Good Guys?

It's time to add more humor — and humanity — to media portrayals of dentistry

By Jennifer Gee Schoon-Tong, DDS

Dentists in the media.

Have you seen the movie Horrible Bosses, in which Jennifer Aniston plays a sex-crazed dentist who harasses her staff and patients? Or have you seen The Dentist and The Dentist II — both of which are based on dentist psycho killers? Or even the dentist in the children's animated film Finding Nemo, who captures helpless clownfish Nemo and plans to give the little fish to his violent, braces-and-headgear-wearing niece?

Well, I share these examples because as a member of the dental profession, I become very excited when I find out that a character in a film is playing a dentist. It just tickles me and makes me want to go and see the film! But most times I'm just as equally disappointed after I see what the character portrays! Publicity (bad or good) is publicity, right? NO!!!

Though dentistry is one of the most trusted professions in America, it is seldom portrayed in a positive light in TV, movies, and even social media. After all, when is the last time you saw a fun tweet or Facebook message from your dentist or hygienist? I bet if you did you'd say “my dentist can tweet?” But maybe you might enjoy hearing about someone you don't know who JUST had their braces taken off successfully! Rejoice!!!

We smile and make jokes. Be honest now, I'm sure you laugh just a little bit in the dental chair — you just don't remember it because right after we make you open your mouth, we look around and you can't get a word in edgewise!

I realize going to the dentist isn't always fun for everyone, or even funny. But it can be. Dentists are pretty awesome people (am I biased? hmmm). But truly, I think we are generally very pleasant and personable; we are great listeners and we have (for the most part) excellent chair-side manners. We volunteer often, and enjoy giving back to our communities and we are always there when you need us. We smile and make jokes. Be honest now, I'm sure you laugh just a little bit in the dental chair — you just don't remember it because right after we make you open your mouth, we look around and you can't get a word in edgewise! Trust me, we actually are very good at deciphering “dental” body language — it has its own tongue and we speak it fluently.

I do know of one movie that managed to do a great job of humorizing my profession: The Hangover. You've never heard anyone laugh as hard as I did when I saw Ed Helms, playing the dentist, pull out his own tooth! While it was just ridiculous — the idea of me pulling out my own tooth — I found the irony and humor of the situation hilarious. How many of you have parents who wanted to put a string around your loose baby tooth, attach the string to a doorknob, and pull it out that way? See — it isn't as farfetched an idea as we thought!

In light of these revelations, I recently decided to go on Twitter and Facebook to see how my profession was faring in the social media; it was just as I had suspected. When I looked up “dentistry” there were lots of important yet long articles with no pictures, or if they had pictures it was of bleeding gums or the grossest teeth you could imagine. And while there were some great blog posts on topics of interest to those in the dental field, they weren't really written to engage the public or promote dentistry.

I am not trying to reduce the seriousness and importance of the dental profession but I truly feel that we need to humanize and humorize dentistry — making it more palatable and putting the profession in a positive light. After all, we did go to school for what felt like forever, we are watching out for your overall well-being and health, AND we have the ability to make your smile healthy and aesthetically pleasing — win-win all around! So why can't there be, for example, a dentist character like the hilarious and sarcastic yet smart OB-GYN who delivers Hugh Grant's baby in the movie Nine Months?

Our caring reach extends globally (helping children with cleft lips and palates), nationally (in the identification of victims of tragedies such as 9/11), and locally — as we serve our own communities, and YOU, our beloved patients. Why can't we have our own television series like Grey's Anatomy or The Practice where all the characters are amazingly good looking, and they are all dentists, and they solve mysteries in dental diagnostics? I'd watch it!

Right now, a dentist somewhere is relieving someone's pain or giving someone a new smile.

I'm not asking the television or movie industries to make dentists the smart-yet-somewhat-boring goodie-two-shoes, but why can't the dentist save the day once in a while? Think about it: Right now, a dentist somewhere is relieving someone's pain or giving someone a new smile. While this may not be life-saving, it certainly can be life-changing. I see it every day in my practice, as do my fellow dentists across the country and probably the world.

I know that by myself I'm not going to be able to change the media's slighting of my profession, but I'm darn well going to try. So cheers to the humorization and the humanization of dentistry!



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