Travel + Leisure

I’m not a dentist, but I play one on TV

Bush, practicing her torture techniques on her mannequin head Ichabod

Dentists have long been demonized in Hollywood. With our wickedly sharp instruments and penchant for causing bleeding (perio probing is important, okay??), it’s not hard to understand why. We’re not always portrayed as malicious sadists, however. I still get a laugh from movie dentists who are hopelessly friendly and naïve. Below are some of the most famous (and most entertaining) TV and movie dentists currently shaping patient opinions.


1. Dr. Szell, “Marathon Man.” In a scene that still gives my own mother nightmares, an escaped Nazi dentist tortures Dustin Hoffman’s character with various dental instruments. While someone with a dental background may find his “expertise” a little over the top, it’s easy to see why this portrayal of a dentist might make some a little nervous.

2. Dr. “Shelly” Kornpett, “The In-Laws.” In one of his best roles, Alan Arkin plays a kindly New York dentist whose daughter is getting married. He inadvertently gets swept up in a globetrotting, life-threatening top secret mission with his future son-in-law’s father. It’s a rollicking comedy that makes dentists seem mild-mannered and generally avoidant of car chases and firefights. Go figure. In the 2003 remake, Albert Brooks brings new life to one of my favorite dentist characters.

3. Dr. Tim Whatley, “Seinfeld.” Bryan Cranston plays Jerry’s dentist who converts to Judaism “for the jokes.” While his PPE leaves something to be desired, his sense of humor, well… it also leaves something to be desired. Jerry complains so much about Dr. Whatley that Kramer labels him an “anti-dentite.”

Whether terrifying or ridiculous, dentists are a perennial favorite for TV and movie characters. Use this knowledge to your advantage. While it may be funny to throw in a few Seinfeld references, you may want to refrain from asking your patients “is it safe?”

Rachel Bush, Las Vegas ’18, electronic editor

Rachel Bush

Rachel is a fourth-year dental student at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. She hails from northern Illinois and has enjoyed the transition to desert life. She is active in her school's volunteer Women's Clinic, which provides free care for abused women. She serves as an electronic editor on ASDA's 2017-18 National Editorial Board (her second year in that role).

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