Staggering back from the dentist with a face full of novocaine, I found myself yet again pondering the world’s greatest mystery – why do people become dentists?
Lord knows I’m grateful that they do. My juvenile CurlyWurly obsession coincided with the dark ages of British dentistry and I’m grateful for how much better it’s got every time I go to get a substandard filling repaired. But still, why do they do it? Want to help people feel better and remove pain? Be a doctor. Get off on seeing people gibbering with fear and drooling when they come to see you? Become a tax inspector. At least then you won’t have to listen to a drill all day. Fancy the idea of sculpting very small things in a confined space? Go to art school.
I’ve been trying to think of heroic dentists of the past who might act as role models, but nothing comes instantly to mind from life or the movies. Heroic doctors galore, of course. Even tax inspectors have that guy in The Untouchables who helps Kevin Costner nab Al Capone. But dentists? The first film featuring dentistry that most people could name off the top of their heads is Marathon Man, and if you’re encouraged to take up the probe after seeing that, there are probably laws to stop you.
The only dentist-hero I can think of was created by the late and much missed Alan Coren. After a dashing spell in the foreign legion, azure-eyed, blond-haired Garth Genesis fixes the Prime Minister’s teeth and eventually becomes Foreign Secretary, while lovelorn beauties queue up in his waiting room for the chance of a consultation. But apart from him what’s the attraction? It’s not a question I feel I can ask while I’m there. It might sound as though I think they’re doing something shameful and slightly weird, which is not a good position to be in when you’re there with your mouth open and they have an armoury of pointy metal things in easy reach.