Dentists featured in new movie and TV show

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"What a great job, to be able to shove wads of cotton in people's mouths." The thought reportedly occurred to David Koepp, director of the new film "Ghost Town," as he was walking down a New York street "feeling crabby about people in general."

From that eureka moment came one of the few feature films offering a dentist as the main character. "Ghost Town," starring Ricky Gervais as dentist Bertram Pincus, starts September 19.

And "Ghost Town" is not the only new fictional dentist popping up in popular culture. Next year, Nickelodeon will launch "Glen Martin, DDS," a stop-motion children's TV show with a dentist as a main character.

The simultaneous appearance of fictional dentists on the small and big screens is apparently a coincidence. But conversations with the creators suggest some ways in which the mass media view of the profession is changing.

Thirty-two years ago, "Marathon Man" -- which featured dentistry literally as torture -- created the most memorable image of a dentist in the movies.

Perhaps because of progress in caries prevention and anesthesia, pain is the not the major theme in either "Ghost Town" or "Glenn Martin, DDS."

Rather, a different stereotype figures into "Ghost Town" -- the notion that dentists themselves are depressed about their work, said Casey Stone, a Paramount publicist. "He is definitely a snarly character," she said. "There is the statistic that dentists are an unhappy profession."

The trailer from "Ghost Town," which opens this weekend.

The Ricky Gervais character, much like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, is a chronically crabby man who is brought to a sunnier outlook by the visitation of ghosts.

Stone is quick to point out that another dentist in the film, who shares an office with Gervais' character, is naturally a cheerful man.

(The choice of Gervais -- who won fame as the star in the original British version of "The Office" TV show, carries with it a small irony: news accounts have sometimes focused on his crooked teeth.)

The inspiration for the Nickleodeon dentist Glenn Martin comes from a very different view of dentists, said Steven Cohen of Tornante, the production company behind the new show. "We wanted to portray an upper middle class working man and wanted to pick a profession that was very identifiable, very visual, and also a bit demanding," he wrote in an e-mail to

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"Glenn Martin, DDS," image courtesy of Tornante.
Since the show was pitched to kids, the creators thought it would be funny to portray Dr. Martin traveling in a mobile dental clinic, which he calls the Molar Express.

"As far as a feeling a dentist evokes to our target audience, we feel that a dentist has a certain warmth compared to other professions," Cohen explained. "Kids remember going to the dentist, getting the toys at the end, and Glenn is that kind of dentist, very warm, friendly."

The opening scene of the first episode shows Dr. Martin working with a child who won't open his mouth. "There is a certain personal touch a dentist must give each and every patient, so that also made it an attractive and rich profession for a show like this," Cohen wrote.

Not all episodes will depict Dr. Martin at work, however. "The show is really about this family that decides to live on the road and see America, it's not specifically about being a dentist, although that will certainly come into play in episodes," he wrote.

So do dentists at last have their answer to the legion of fictional medical doctors -- from Marcus Welby to Dr. McDreamy -- who have flaunted their stethoscopes on large screen and small? Stay tuned.

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