Looking in the Popular Culture Mirror Essay
“Dentists: We aren’t everything the media quacks us up to be!”
When we all were little, our dream professions were to be a babysitter or a fireman or a princess. For me, it wasn’t any of those. I wanted to be a dentist! There is always so much excitement, responsibility and prestige. I was shocked to find out that there is actually a psychological disorder where people are terrified of the dentist called dental phobia, odontophobia or dentophobia. By seeing how many people are uneasy when around dentists, I started to wonder why. When we are in the 21st century, with some of the best technology we have seen ever, why are my patients afraid of me? The media solves this answer. Our society today is strictly driven by the media. The media tends to put out movies and cartoons which negatively portray dentists. While I’m sure many people have had horrible dental experiences, dentists are not as scary, horrible and ridiculed as how they are depicted in the media.
“Timothy?” I politely say while looking around the waiting room patiently awaiting for some kind of movement to get up from the couch. Everyone is looking at me but no one is responding to the name. Again, “Timothy?” A sigh is let out from a thirty year old man, I can already see him trembling in his footsteps. Coming from a medical professional, seeing these actions and body language, can make even me a little uneasy at times. It means I have to choose my words thoughtfully and diligently as to not trigger any more negative emotions. It can become a pretty difficult psychological barrier to endure with someone you have never met before.
When Timothy finally reached the operatory (…of death, as he might have called it) it took him about another five minutes for him to have a seat in the dental chair. You could see the sweat trickle down his forehead and the clammy hands that were swelling up with his blood flow. When I pointed out the fact to Timothy that he looked a little nervous, he couldn’t agree more. Talking with him for a while to get an understanding of what was going through his head, it made me finally understand the “why.”
I never had put in a lot of thought as to why people are suffering from a high anxiety attack when dealing with dentist and dental hygienists. I definitely do understand that most of the time it comes from the fact of a dentist inflicting pain on you in a past experience. This might to do with the way the news and the media represents dentists. I’m sure you have seen a actor or actress playing the dentist role, but now I get the opportunity to demonstrate how these negative attributes through three popular movies ruin the minds of our delicate patients.
The first artifact that can be used to scrutinize the field of dentistry comes from the bewildering, humorous and unprofessional dentist, Dr. Julia Harris. What a better way to portray a dentist in “Horrible Bosses” than a sexy little woman played by Jennifer Aniston? This definitely caught my eye. When I say it caught my eye, I mean that you do not see many female dentists around. We are rare commodities. It becomes kind of empowering when you see such a male dominated profession overturned by a female. It becomes a refreshing and not stereotypical portrayal of the dental field. When you get into the dental scene a little bit more you are slapped in the face with this erotic scene.
How about that? It gives you a couple laughs, but let’s really dig into the controversial sides this movie is degrading towards, not just dentists in general, but female dentists! Being in a field of male ridden dentists, it can be a tough enough job to succeed in. By having this reversed role is interesting. If this dentist was a male in this movie, I doubt they would have the same effect as Aniston did. There are far less appropriate things men could say to a female dentist assistant. I find that this is why the producers chose to have a female dentist role. It would be far less funny and interesting, which in turn would not give the movie the humorous reviews it has.
You may not have noticed but there are many inaccuracies involved in the dental scene as well. This first inaccuracy involves the way in which the inhalation conscious sedation called nitrous oxide (laughing gas) works. Nitrous oxide lets the patient be aware of all of its surroundings while slightly calming the patient in order to receive dental care. The patient whom Dr. Harris, played by Aniston, is working on is completely unconscious. If a patient was unconscious, they would be heavily medicated with an intravenous sedation. I did not see any lines going into that patient’s blood stream, did you? Inconsistency number one of many. Movies and the media tend to play roles over-the-top and misrepresented, which is exactly the product displayed in “Horrible Bosses.” Just like Dr. Harris, dentists can be perceived in our media sources as very unprofessional and full of themselves.
Ever heard of the movie “Little Shop of Horrors” where Steve Martin plays a devil of a dentist? I hadn’t heard of it either until I did some research on how dentists are portrayed in the media. I actually had somewhat heard of it when a patient or two mentions it or asked if I had seen it before; but I never paid that much attention to it. This movie is the perfect depiction of why people would be afraid of the dentist. Steve Martin plays a pain-inflicting, nitrous huffing dentist who thoroughly enjoys it. What a perfect horror movie. I hope you can see how problematic this media portrayal makes my job. Take a glimpse into this scene from “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The dentist sees his pain inflicting job as a success! He loves hurting people and doing those god-awful extractions and root canals. This is the exact opposite of what I would have my patients watch before coming into the dental office. In my role as a dental hygienist and a dental student, I tend to spend a decent amount of time explaining each procedure so the patients know exactly what will be going on, making them well informed. Not to mention they will end up paying over a thousand dollars for this dental therapy. If they have this scene from “Little Shop of Horrors” running in the back of their head, you can see how this might complicate procedures and stir up mixed emotions with people, disabling them to go through with the treatment. Did you know that, “between 5% and 8% of Americans avoid dentists out of fear… A higher percentage, perhaps 20%, experiences enough anxiety that they will go to the dentist only when absolutely necessary” (Sine). Why can’t dentists be the good guys for a change?
Another way the media uses this movie to negatively portray dentists is a song called “The Dental Song” from “Little Shop of Horrors.” Some of the lyrics that describes how this dentist thinks and acts like are as follows: 1) oh that hurts, wait, I’m not dumb. Ehh shut up, open wide, here I come! 2) I am your dentist, and I enjoy the career that I picked (love it). I am your dentist, and I get off on the pain I inflict (you really love it) And lastly, 3) somewhere in heaven above me I know that my momma’s proud of me. Oh, momma ’cause I’m a dentist and a success. Each of those lines in “The Dentist Song,” gives so much disrespect to the dental field.
In order to avoid the stereotypical media model of a dentist here is something you can try. When seeing your dentist for the first time, treat it like it is an interview. When you see a dentist who is a medical professional they should give you their most sincere, professional opinion on your oral health and how it can negatively affect your overall health. It starts with the staff and then moves along to the dentist. Ask him questions, see if the dentist can give you the time of day to explain certain procedures, see how he responds and works with his staff. If any portions of the “interview” are negative, maybe you should find another option.
I found it very interesting that on Dr. Mark Wegeos’ website (Comprehensive Family Dentistry) even mentioned “Little Shop of Horrors.” The dentist wanted to reassure his patients and future patients that he was nothing like Steve Martin in this movie. This family dentist feels the needs to go into depth about how Dr. Wegeos is not a sadistic dentist, cold and unfeeling and isn’t a medieval barber (Weglos, 2006) . If a real life dentist has to go out of his way to tell his patients that, doesn’t that seem to tell you about how impacting our media can be on people? Just a thought.
Moving to the lighter side of dentists portrayed in the media comes Stu in “The Hangover!” When you think of Stu the dentist, you might say he doesn’t fit into any of the categories we’ve already talked about here. He isn’t a sex seeking man-eater or your worst nightmare’s dentist. If he’s none of those, why would I bring it to your attention? He falls under another stereotypical model being somewhat of a nerd and dorky!
Everything about Stu is humorous! The way he dresses, the way he interacts with his girlfriend and how his friends interpret him as. Through looking at these problematic media portrayals it seems that dentists are either displayed as fools, horrors or boasters. Stu is sort of represented in the fool scheme of things. His little sweater tied around his neck in a preppy looking way to how his friends make fun of him or use him for his money. It’s all part of the act of making dentists look like fools, nerds, know-it-alls, etc. The way he packs his luggage for a couple nights in Vegas is very methodical and systematic. How he places his Rogaine in the suitcase and how he mentally checks it off his “Vegas to bring list.” Why did the producers need to make Stu so uptight about things or make him a dentist (of all professions to pick from) at all? It’s such an easy answer, because it just wouldn’t be as funny!
Being a dentist and working with hundreds of people a month of all levels of anxiety is not just a job, but it is a lifestyle. A lifestyle which we chose only to better the condition of your oral cavity. From my experience, about 99% of the dental population is not here to hurt you, but rather to help you smile happily again. In conclusion, although many people have had horrible dental experiences, dentists are not as scary as how they are portrayed in the media. You are more than welcome to be the judge of that for yourself, but I can almost promise that if you let your dentist know how afraid or nervous you are, they will always do the best that they can to make you feel welcomed and comfortable!
Sine, R. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved 2014, from Oral Care, Don’t Fear The Dentist: http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/dont-fear-the-dentist
Weglos, M. (2006). Comprehensive Family Dentistry. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from Calming Your Fear Of The Dentist: Challenging Media Portrayals: http://www.weglosfamilydental.com/new_dentist/calming_your_fear_of_the_dentist_challenging_media_portrayals.htm