Dentistry and Art: Mickey’s Toothache

I recently posted about the depiction of dentistry in Baroque art. Let’s fast forward approximately 400 years to something more recent, although this “art” is still from 1938!

The archivists at Disney just released a 1938 sketch of Mickey Mouse experiencing what can only be described as a dental adventure.  The artist Ferdinand Horvath completed the piece for Disney in April 1938.  The sketch was apparently found in a folder with other material in the Disney Archives in California.  As a bit of history, Mickey made his debut in 1928 and had already been featured in comic strips and several movies by the time this sketch was being illustrated.  Fantasia, with its psychedelic influences, was due to be released in 1940, with Mickey Mouse playing a role in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

1938 sketch of Mickey being chased by the dental chair and a dentist

Newly released sketch from Disney called Mickey’s Toothache featuring Mickey Mouse, a dental chair, and a dentist wielding pliers. Image is courtesy of Disney Archives.

The sketch, titled “Mickey’s Toothache”, shows a younger looking Mickey Mouse.  He has a towel wrapped around his head to suggest he has a toothache and his cheeks appear swollen. He is running away from a dental chair whose “arms” have a firm grasp on him. An unidentified character playing the role of the dentist is in hot pursuit despite having what looks like a wooden leg. The “dentist” has both a pair of pliers and a saw.

If you look closely at the sketch, specifically at the back of the chair, you can see where the chair had initially been drawn in and then subsequently erased. It makes you wonder what the sketch initially looked like.

I could probably write much more analyzing all the nuances of this sketch and how it portrayed dentistry back in 1938.  But one generalization can be made:

Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist holding a dental drill

Steve Martin with a drill, 1986.

Up until the development of the air powered dental handpiece (a.k.a dental drill), the most dreaded instrument of the dentist was the forceps (a.k.a. pliers).  With the introduction of the drill and its characteristic noise, the forceps have been replaced by the drill as the “most dreaded dental instrument” that is depicted in the mainstream media.

So the real question is this: if Disney were to make a short cartoon called Mickey’s Toothache 2013, would it involve a drill? A large needle? Forceps? I suspect it would involve a drill.


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