27 May 2008

Doctor De Soto

Author/Illustrator: William Steig

Few know this, but Doctor De Soto was inspired by a speech given by Doctor Franklin De Soto, considered to be one of the earliest pioneers in the field of Dental Medicine. (Interesting fact: D.D.S. = Dr. De Soto.)

In his commencement speech to the West Virginia School of Dentistry Class of 1927, Dr. De Soto described, in surprisingly candid detail, the pains of devoting one's life to dentistry. Here is an excerpt:

"All of you have given years of your lives studying the field of dentistry. What was it that drove you? It definitely wasn't the lifetime of halitosis and plaque-caked mouths that inspired you to complete this grueling degree. So why did you do it? For the same reason I entered the field: the simple desire to help your fellow man. You were born with the impulse to alleviate the sharp pains of daily life and to soothe the dull and persistent hurt that plagues your neighbor. But I'm here to warn you: your idealism will not be rewarded.

This is what you will receive for your trouble: You will be the nightmare of the young children who come screaming into your office as if you were the devil himself. You will be subjected to an endless parade of adults who brazenly lie to your face... yeah, you "try to floss everyday", my ass. You will devote years to straightening the teeth of spoiled adolescents who will use their flawless smile to convince some poor soul to marry them--and you won't even get an invitation to their wedding.

So I'm warning you now: Dentistry is a thankless profession. For those of you considering a career in dentistry, do not for one minute expect accolades or even simple gratitude for your efforts. No amount of free toothbrushes or sugarfree lollipops will sway the fickle souls of your patients. Your clientele is like an ungrateful and unholy wolf, just waiting to take a bite out of your youthful idealism. That being said, I encourage you to proceed because yours is still a noble profession. But if you do choose to travel down this thorny path, do so with eyes wide open, or else you will be consumed by the very people you are trying to help. If my years of dentistry have taught me one thing, it is this: An open mouth is just a bite waiting to happen. With that, I congratulate you, Class of 1927. Best of luck. You're going to need it."

Rumor has it that a young William Steig was an undergraduate student who took Dr. De Soto's words to heart and decided to change his course of study from dentistry and pursue a life as an artist. Yet, as his book shows, he never lost his respect for the dental profession or the mousy old curmudgeon who took the time to tell him the truth.


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