Why are fictional dentists always so alarming?

WELCOME TO “JUST ASKING,” in which Incisal Edge puts forth a handful of questions — some serious, some less so — to dentists nationwide. Want to participate? E-mail editor@incisaledgemagazine.com and we’ll be happy to add you to the respondent list.

ON A FEAR-O-METER that goes from 1 (the Care Bears) to 5 (Pennywise, the eeeevil clown in Stephen King’s It) to 10 (Game of Thrones’ suffocatingly terrifying blue-eyed Night King, his dragon and zombie-apocalypse army), dentists earn a solid 7.75. Go us!

Last year, Dr. Lisa Heaton, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Dental Fears Clinic — it really exists; you can look it up — shared research with Washingtonian.com showing that roughly 80 percent of American adults, a rate that has held steady for five decades, harbor some anxiety about visiting the dentist. Our survey respondents concur, noting that “patients are still afraid” is one thing that hasn’t changed about dentistry. (More on that next issue.)

Given the numbers, it’s no surprise that when asked for their opinion of the most memorable portrayal of a dentist in any book, TV show or movie — your move, Golden Globes category pickers — our polled dentists went with docs who evince a variety of troubles: the misfit (“Hermey, the young dentist from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” wrote one); the henpecked-and-unraveling (“Stu, from The Hangover”); the utterly inept (“Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show, trying to extract a tooth and numbing his hand, head and leg. Hysterical”) and the straight-up insufferable (“The Australian dentist in Finding Nemo”).

The antagonistic docs from Marathon Man and Little Shop of Horrors earned only one vote each. So maybe dentists aren’t quite as scary as they used to be? After all, in an era of needle-free anesthesia and vacation destination–inspired practice aesthetics (both of which we cover elsewhere in this issue), is a sea change in patient attitudes perhaps in the offing? Stay tuned.