Dentist! by
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Prompted By The Dentist

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In 1986, Steve Martin’s role in Little Shop of Horrors was Orin Scrivello D.D.S. In it, he captured how many of us feel about going to the dentist:

Steve Martin’s role as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors captured how many of us feel about going to the dentist.

Because of a congenital dental issue that I shared with several cousins on my mother’s side of the family, my lateral incisor on one side never appeared after I lost my baby teeth. On the other side, it was there but small. While we both looked cute in this photo, we had gaps between our teeth that needed to be addressed.

My earliest memories of the dentist revolved around the frequent and painful visits I had to remedy this problem. My family dentist’s solution was to remove the too small incisor to “even things out.” I know this would never happen now because my granddaughter inherited the same problem and her dentist capped the tooth while her orthodontist worked some magic on the other side that resulted in a beautiful smile and no bridges. But back in the day, my cousin Annette and I took the bus to downtown Detroit, newly minted teens with messed up teeth, to see our orthodontist, Dr. Teetsel. I don’t imagine he was renowned in his field, but my family looked for bargains in their medical providers.

Thus, Annette and I began our journey toward fixing our smiles through multiple painful dental visits. The only good part of these frequent visits was that his office was located in an office building right next to a Saunders ice cream shop. There is nothing better than their butter pecan ice cream topped with their hot fudge, which is the way we ended every visit as a reward for enduring the pain he inflicted.


My first dental bridge was made of plastic by my parents’ dentist, most likely to keep the cost down. When I moved to Chicago, I went to the dentist my future husband’s family used. He was especially kind to us in terms of charging very little, but he did not believe in using Novocain. He also proclaimed I needed a new bridge ASAP so I would have a pretty smile at my wedding. The work to create that smile was so painful that I prayed I would never have to replace it again.

Alas, I needed to go through it twice more, but this time I had found a very gentle dentist, Dr. Stephens. When he retired, I saw one of his sons, Dr. Bob, who replaced the bridge for what I’m sure is the last time (both a happy and frightening thought) in time for my granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah in 2019.

Ironically, when I first met Dr. Bob, he looked a bit like Steve Martin’s Orin Scrivello D.D.S. His motorcycle and black leather jacket transformed my dentist-fearing daughter, who was now eager to go because she had a massive crush on him. Dr. Bob just retired. Time to form a new dental partnership with his replacement. Going next week for a filling. Wish me luck.

In case you have forgotten, here are the lyrics from The Dentist!

When I was younger, just a bad little kid
My mama noticed funny things I did
Like shootin’ puppies with a BB gun
I’d poison guppies, and when I was done
I’d find a pussycat and bash in its head
That’s when my mama said
(What did she say?)
She said, “My boy, I think someday
You’ll find a way
To make your natural tendencies pay
You’ll be a dentist (You’ll be a dentist)
You have a talent for causin’ things pain (Pain)
Son, be a dentist (Son, be a dentist)
People will pay you to be inhumane (Inhumane)
Your temperament’s wrong for the priesthood
And teaching would suit you still less
Son, be a dentist
You’ll be a success!”
Here he is folks, the leader of the plaque!
Watch him suck up that gas, oh my god!
He’s a dentist and he’ll never ever be any good
Who wants their teeth done by the Marquis de Sade?
Oh, that hurts! Wait, I’m not numb!
Oh, shut up
Open wide, here I come!
I am your dentist (Goodness gracious)
And I enjoy the career that I picked (Love it)
I am your dentist (Fitting braces)
And I get off on the pain I inflict (Really love it)
I thrill when I drill a bicuspid (Bicuspid)
It’s swell though they tell me I’m maladjusted (Dentist)
And though it may cause my patients distress (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! (Ah)
Say ah! (Ah)
Say ah! (Ah)
Now spit!

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love the “Little Shop of Horrors” reference, Laurie. That was a very funny show, based on a Grade C horror movie (a wild cousin of mine used to run around family parties saying, “feed me Seymour”, long before the show or the movie).

    But your experiences with the various orthodontists and dentists to fix the problem with a bridge sound truly painful, expensive (and probably frightening for a young child). I hope you have finally had your last bridge.

    On the other hand…a Saunders sundae…YUM!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I know you know about the Saunders hot fudge. Used to be able to get it when we visited Detroit and could probably still get it online, but I need to stay away. Steve Martin is still looking pretty good these days. Love Only Murders in the Building.

  2. Oh Laurie, you poor kid, but glad for the handy Saunders ice cream shop!

    I never saw Little Shop of Horrors and now don’t think I will!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    What a terrific story, Laura, weaving your own, unfortunately painful, dental history with the Little Shop of Horrors’ “The Dentist.” And you masterfully complemented it with the hilarious youTube clip — Steve Martin at his zaniest (and with some great production values).

    That said, the photo of your post-dental torture ice cream treat was a whole lot easier to take. (And, even though an Eastern boy, I’ve actually heard of Sanders. For those who don’t know it, here’s some history:

    And I love stories with happy endings. You have a beautiful smile and both Dr. Stephens and Dr. Bob sound like real gentle mensches.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, John. Now that Dr. Bob is retiring, I plan to take really good care of my teeth. I felt so sad to have passed this on to my granddaughter, but her braces are off and her smile is gorgeous. Steve Martin is still pretty funny and holding up well (Only Murders in the Building). I wonder about Little Shop of Horrors, though.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I had never heard the dentist song before—ouch! I feel your pain—I had even more congenitally “missing” teeth than you, and suffered multiple manipulations and bridges and ultimately implants (and still have a few loose baby teeth that will need attention if I last longer than they do). Modern dentistry has improved choices. Meanwhile, as I told Suzy, I am to dedicated dental hygiene in efforts to hang on to what we got.

  5. Suzy says:

    I’ve never seen Little Shop of Horrors or heard the dentist song, but I get the idea. How dreadful that you had such bad dental experiences as a child! Ironic that the reward for going to the dentist was ice cream sundaes, loaded with sugar! But I guess the cold ice cream numbed the pain. And then to have a dentist who didn’t believe in novocaine! Yikes! Glad you finally found a gentle dentist, and one your daughter had a crush on. Sounds like a happy ending.

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