Dentist Protagonists In Literature

Jul 30, 2016
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A correction now. Last week, we spoke with Dave Eggers about his fine new novel, "Heroes Of The Frontier." His protagonist - a dentist. The author and I agreed dentists are rarely major characters in literature. Boy, I was wrong. I'm glad I didn't have to see my dentist this week. He might've said, you have a huge cavity in your brain.

George Bernard Shaw wrote a play, "You Never Can Tell," about a dentist. Doc Holliday, the gunslinger, was a dentist. He's been fictionalized in several novels and lots of films. Frank Norris wrote a romance about a young dentist named "McTeague." Piers Anthony's 1971 novel, "Prostho Plus," is about aliens who come to a prosthodontist for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) No earthly jaw contained dentures like these. He decided not to ask questions whose answers might well be beyond his comprehension. This was no joke, and this was no longer a conventional problem. For some reason, two aliens, extraterrestrial aliens for all he knew, had come to his office to demand some service. One sat expectantly in the chair. It could hardly be an accident. Why did anyone come to a dentist? Somebody had a toothache.

SIMON: And Joshua Ferris's 2014 novel, "To Rise Again At A Decent Hour," is about a Red Sox fan who is a dentist.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Reading) I encourage my patients to floss. It was hard to do some days. They should have flossed. Flossing prevents periodontal disease and can extend life up to seven years. It's also time consuming and a general pain in the ass. That's not the dentist talking. That's the guy who comes home, four or five drinks in, and what a great evening he has all around. And the minute he takes up the floss, he says to himself, what's the point?

But then someone who never flossed a day in his life would come in, the picture of inconcievable self-neglect and unnecessary pain, rotted teeth, swollen gums, a live wire of infection running from enamel to nerve. And what I called hope, what I called courage, above all, what I called defiance again rose up in me. And I would go around the next day or two saying to all my patients, you must floss. Please floss. Flossing makes all the difference.

SIMON: Good advice for mornings, too. Dentists in literature.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DENTIST!")

STEVE MARTIN: (As Orin Scrivello, singing) And though it may cause my patients distress, somewhere, somewhere in heaven above me, I know, I know that my mama's proud of me. Oh, mama, 'cause I'm a dentist and a success. Say ah. Say ah. Say ah. Now spit.

SIMON: Ah, you're listening to Steve Martin and NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.