Let’s face it: going to the dentist isn’t usually very funny. In fact, for many (maybe most), it’s downright scary. It doesn’t help that the media has traditionally played on the public’s fear of going to the dentist. There are movies that feed into this fear-inducing perception. Think “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Marathon Man,” and my all-time least favorite, “The Dentist.”
Conversely, there are comedy skits that poke fun at the vulnerability one experiences going to the dentist. Remember the Dudley Moore/Bo Derek movie “10?” In the “Carol Burnett Show,” there were skits with the hilarious Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Even Jimmy Fallon did a skit that hashtagged its way through Justin Timberlake’s visit to the dentist. #dentalcare
Then, there are the dentists themselves. We are often the source of humor in the dental office. Perhaps it is a valiant effort on our part to make the patient feel more comfortable and allay their fears. Or perhaps it is a subliminal desire on our part to be stand-up comics and we understand the value of a captive audience (just saying).
My dad was a perfect example. Legend has it that he would fill the patient’s mouth with cotton rolls, and then begin his routine. He had a joke for every occasion and for every humor genre. This man was a walking encyclopedia of good, bad and ugly jokes. Unfortunately for him, none of his three adoring children got the joke gene. Dad tried not to show his disappointment, but I knew his disappointment was real. He clung desperately to the hope that the one (and only) joke in my repertoire would give me, joke-telling cred. With embarrassing pride in his voice, he would encourage me to tell my “wide-mouthed frog” joke to any and all of our patients. It made me feel as if I was ten years old and in a recital. My knees got weak and wobbly and my mouth went dry as I stumbled my way through the joke. (If you insist, I will regale you with my version of “the wide-mouthed frog” only if there is wine involved.) Patients laughed in a cottony polite manner and I went on about my work. It was painful for me.
But the patients? To this day, they talk about my sweet dad’s penchant for telling jokes while they were stuck in the chair. So, I guess there is something to be said about sharing humor in the dental office. If it means relieving fear and uncertainty for only a minute, it may turn out to be the best minute of the experience and what the patient will remember most. Today, I listen with delight as I hear patients laugh at the stories my dentists and hygienist are telling. The air compressor and high speed don’t sound so ominous when there is laughter in the air.
Suddenly, the dental office is a fun place to be.
Do you find that humor in the office works for you?
Claudia Anderson, DDS