Members of Generation X grew up on a steady diet of pop culture, and many a laugh has been shared around the television set. A sampling of pop culture reveals the comic potential for oral hygiene. Several of my favorite television shows include at least one episode that features dentistry. Maybe there’s something about a television character we love going to the dentist that just resonates. We’ve all been in that chair wearing a bib.
How many Generation Xers remember the after-school rerun when Marcia Brady breathlessly awaited her date with Dr. Vogel, only to find out she had been hired to babysit for the evening? I think this episode might be how I learned what it meant to have a crush. The Brady Bunch, Mister Rogers and Sesame Street are all equally responsible for much of my character development, as much as The Electric Company is why I love words and Morgan Freeman.
Not all of us are fortunate enough to have a dentist who converts to our own religion while we are patients, but so it goes for Jerry’s character on Seinfeld. We all love actor Bryan Cranston. He’s the drug-selling high school teacher on television and President Johnson on Broadway, for crying out loud. But how many of us see him and can’t help but think, “Whatley!”? The anti-dentist satire was perfect for its time.
The Golden Girls uses Rose’s visit to her dentist to teach an important lesson about confronting and reporting sexual assault. Before there was Detective Olivia Benson, there was Rose Nylund of Miami Vice, who struggled to summon the confidence to stand up to unwanted advances by her dentist until she armed herself with the most comic of dental instruments – the tiny water hose.
Generation Xers will agree that it is important to acknowledge perhaps the best comedy bit ever about going to the dentist, even though it occurs outside the sitcom realm. I am referring to the segment of Bill Cosby where he describes his time in the dentist’s chair. Comically large needles are involved. The drilling of a tooth produces smoke, which he mistakes as a sign that the office is on fire. The gut busting comes when he talks about “a line” going from the spit bowl all the way up to your bottom lip.
It’s hard to say why the dental office visit figures so prominently in some of the more memorable entertainment from my younger years. Recently, there has been the introduction of a new character, the Novocain, a series lead character confined to a chair. How could wackiness not ensue?