Let’s have a look at those cavities…
And I enjoy the career that I’ve picked!
I’m your dentist,
And I get off on the pain I inflict!”
Poor dentists. The prevalence of dental fear amongst people of all ages and educational levels leads to dentists being unfairly stereotyped in popular culture as sadistic torturers.
Expect the Depraved Dentist to wear a permanent Slasher Smile, usher a patient into his (it’s nearly always “his”) examining room filled with rusty, scary-looking instruments, most of which are from the 16th century, and a huge honkin’ drill, and wreak havoc on the helpless, screaming individual’s mouth (and possibly other body parts). If his patient comes to him with a toothache, he may not care about pulling some other teeth that were perfectly good.
Sometimes the dentist doesn’t practice tooth-torture, but does creepy things to them when they’re under anesthesia.
Sometimes (unrealistically) also practices orthodonture, a similarly feared profession in Real Life.
The trope arises from that fact that until the early 1800s, teeth yanking was usually under the purview of (usually badly trained) barbers, who generally took the “brute-force” approach towards dental surgery. Also, the use of anesthesia was not common place until after WWII. As a procedure that most people would have undergone and lived through, a distrust of it obviously would have developed. The French even use the expression “mentir comme un arracheur de dents” (“to lie like a tooth-puller”) for Blatant Lies.
Unfortunately, the trope has been Truth in Television – there are cases of dentists who have done unnecessary work as a scam (usually on either poor child clients for Medicaid money, or alternately on rich, heavily insured patients), dentists who have sexually assaulted patients under the influence of anesthesia, and some dentists that are just so incompetent at what they do that they have killed or seriously injured patients in their care and practiced anyway until stopped by regulatory boards or sued out of business. None of these may be named or listed as examples. The good news is that the aforementioned regulatory boards and public listing of malpractice actions (and now, with the internet, patient reviews) makes it far harder for one of these to successfully operate for years without some hint of the danger.
Compare Deadly Doctor, Mad Doctor, Morally Ambiguous Doctorate, The Tooth Hurts, Torture Technician, Attack the Mouth.
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- No complaints from the patient in this case, but the dentist in the cartoon for this commercial for a game called “Crocodile Dentist” seems to be having a little too much fun pulling the croc’s teeth.
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- Averted in an Archie Comics story. When Jughead gets a toothache, his friends drag him kicking and screaming to the dentist. From the waiting room, they listen to him howling in agony until Archie decides to intervene.
Archie: Doctor! What are you doing to him?
Dentist: I haven’t done anything yet. I’m just taking X-rays.