Bitter Cold and Crazy Hot St Louis: The Dental Health Theatre

I was in sorry shape when I arrived at the Dental Health Theatre (sic). I'd been up late the night before. Alhough I'd had energy to wash my hair that night, I'd conked out before shaving. I was looking disheveled. I was sleepy, having barely woken up in time to make this morning show. I'd wolfed down cake for breakfast and hadn't taken time to brush my teeth. (Was that sacrilege in the Dental Health Theatre? Maybe.) The weather forecast for the day was "bitter cold", so I was making interesting fashion choices: many layers of shirts peeking out from underneath my New-Legend-Monkey-Head Giant Robot sweatshirt. In spite of these layers, I had been plenty cold outside on my way to the theater.

Some of my fellow grown-ups there seemed to find me fascinating, which was too bad for them. The Dental Health Theatre put on a better show than I did.

Back when I was planning my trip, I knew from my research that I'd have to make a reservation at the Dental Health Theatre if I wanted to see a show. But there wasn't much information out there on the web. Since I liked the Dental Health Theatre, I'm going to make some information available. For example, I transcribed a Dental Health Theatre Pamphlet which I picked up later. I provide more detail in this travelog than you might expect. Please bear with me.

[Photo: Stage of the Dental Health Theater]

Please do not touch the teeth; the teeth are made of fiberglass and scratch easily.

I saw the show with a group of children who appeared to be on a school trip. I assume that my experience would have been different if I'd been with a group of senior citizens.

On my way into the theater, I walked past a couple of plaques on the wall. One of them acknowledged Louis J. Snider for his vision of a dental health theater. The other plaque said it was Ron Wolff's idea that such a theater should be in St Louis. The theater opened in 1977. I entered the theater proper and sat.

Angie, our dental health educator, introduced herself. I'm not sure exactly what dental health instructor is. Angie was dressed sort of like a dental hygienist, and at first I thought that various dental hygienists pulled shifts at the Dental Health Theater. But I was pretty impressed by Angie's showmanship and delivery; I suspected that she was no beginner. So I think that my dental hygienist theory was wrong. Anyhow.

Angie introduced the giant teeth. The phrase "Please do not touch the teeth, the teeth are made of fiberglass and scratch easily," entered my head, where it would rattle around for a few weeks. Angie said that there were just two sets of these giant teeth in existence. (After the show, I asked her where the other set was. She said they were somewhere in California, not in a theater. Maybe in a science museum.) She said that the teeth cost $20000. I didn't ask if that was total or per-tooth. She mentioned that the mold for the teeth had been mistakenly destroyed. So don't expect a Dental Health Theatre to open in your neighborhood next week.

Angie mentioned that at the end of the show we'd all get certificates saying that we'd seen the teeth. "You saw the teeth and that means you're pretty special." (Angie did not, in fact, give me a certificate after the performance.)

Angie then introduced each kind of tooth. As she introduced them, they lit up from within.

(Before my visit to the Dental Health Theatre, while I was planning it, I'd told friends, "I've heard that there are giant fiberglass teeth. I think they light up. I think the teeth talk to you." Note that this was a bad guess--at no time did the teeth talk to me. If you think that the teeth are talking to you, I advise you to seek professional help. (Or if your own teeth are talking to you, consider that your fillings may be picking up radio transmissions.))

She started with the incisors. Before talking about them, she took a moment to don a beaver hand-puppet. At this point, I expected the beaver to take over the presentation, but he (she?) didn't. Angie might have said a sentence or two about what beavers use their incisors for, but not much. I wasn't sure what the beaver was there for. Would there be a different puppet for each set of teeth?

[Photo: Trudy and Rudy at the Dental Health Theater]

Angie shows off her skills with the giant tooth brush. Look at her go!

But when the cuspids came along, they had no associated puppet, and Angie had replaced the beaver in its lodge. The bicuspids were also presented sans puppet. I realized that I'd been a fool to focus on the puppets. Angie was explaining the function of each kind of tooth without relying on the props.

When it was molar-time, Angie brought out a hippopotamus hand-puppet, but I wasn't surprised when she didn't do much with it. She talked about how molars can grind food up. She talked about when various molars grow in.

Angie pointed out that there were 16 teeth on display, but that the upper jaw would have 16 more. Angie then asked who knew what 16 plus 16 was. My brain jolted as it figured out the answer in a few bases. It couldn't help itself. Meanwhile, several of the children were raising their hands, hoping to be called on. Many interesting hypotheses were forwarded. "22" was close, sort of.

Next, we saw a cartoon, in which Dudley the Dinosaur visited the Dentist. The cartoon reminded me of a book that my ex-manager Peter Dudley had kept around about Dudley the Dinosaur and his Very Long Neck. In that book, a dinosaur named Dudley had wondered why his neck was so long. (Answer: because God made it that way. (You might think that an author who chose a protagonist as a character would be more likely to name "natural selection" as a reason, but in this case you would be wrong.)) I couldn't remember what that Dudley the Dinosaur had looked like. Was he the same critter I was facing now?

[Photo: Trudy and Rudy at the Dental Health Theater]

These dolls--Trudy and Rudy--were disturbing. Their purpose remained murky. Angie said that on dentist visits, we should open our mouths as wide as Trudy and Rudy were. That was their only mention. Had the theater commissioned the creation of these things for that?

Then there was a cheesy marionette show in which Sonny (accompanied by his dog, Lucky) was ensorceled by Mister Tooth Decay, who turned Sonny into a "Candy-Man". As a result of this, Sonny could not play ball with his friends. Fortunately, Dental Hygiene the Dental Health Fairy came along. (Yes, her name was "Dental Hygiene".) She told Sonny the three rules by which he might revert back to boyhood: eat healthy, brush, visit the dentist. When she told him about brushing, she made a toothbrush appear in his hand. To do this, a toothbrush had been strung onto Sonny's hand-control string. The puppeteer let the brush slide down until it collided with Sonny's hand. This was a nice piece of FX. Unfortunately, the brush just kind of dangled there. (As I write this, I wonder if it would be possible for Sonny to hold the brush more securely if his hand and the brush were fitted with directional magnets? So that the brush would tend to cling in the correct position? Am I wandering off the subject? Yes.) Sonny turned back into a boy and went off to see the dentist. (Presumably he was able to play ball with his friends some time later.)

After the marionette show, there was a song from the Tooth Fairy (not to be confused with Dental Hygiene, the Dental Health Fairy). The lights went down and a mirror lit up revealing a fairy head behind it! A fairy head with a mechanical jaw that slowly moved up and down! And an old recording played of some lady singing in an unbearably high voice--but the recording was so degraded that I couldn't tell what she was singing! I kept looking under the mirror for subtitles. This was not the high point of the show.

I recommend the Dental Health Theatre. It's unique, it's charming, and there's some good showmanship to be had.

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