Dentistry in Video Games

Jan 28, 2015, by Dr. Becky Coats

Considering how many people avoid going to the dentist, it might seem surprising that dentistry could be a subject for video games, but there are many games that incorporate dentistry, and even cosmetic dentistry. Often, it’s just a small part of the larger game, but in many games it’s the central focus.

“How’s about Defender, but with Teeth?”

Dental Video GamesDental video games have been around since the first flourishing of the art in the early 1980s. Of course, we have to use the term “art” here pretty loosely because these games are kinda craptastic. They’re symptomatic of the problem that plagued Atari 2600 games and standalone arcade games at the time. With limited controls (just a stick and a single button, usually), there weren’t a lot of ways to make a game truly innovative. I mean, how many ways can you rearrange move and shoot in a unique game dynamic?

Instead, game designers were desperately trying to grab onto any gimmick or premise to make a new game (it reminds me of this Family Guy joke about Stephen King), and that’s how we ended up with not one, but two dental-themed video games in 1983.

In Plaque Attack, you play a toothpaste tube that shoots toothpaste blobs at incoming foods, such as mini hamburgers, french fries, and other such fare. If the food reaches the teeth, it destroys them. If you get a lot of points, you can get replacement teeth.

In Tooth Protectors, you play a strange little creature that hovers over the teeth. A monster progresses across the top of the screen, dropping little cubes that you have to deflect with the plate your creature holds over his deranged grinning head. If you deflect cubes properly, you can kill the monster with his own poison. Because Tooth Protector was issued as a promotional item by Johnson & Johnson, you can be saved by cleanings with Johnson & Johnson products, including a Reach toothbrush, floss, and Act fluoride rinse.

Dental Horror

Of course, some games play on people’s fear of the dentist. This is used in the first episode of the Bioshock franchise. In the sunken, failed utopia of Rapture, there are actually three dental offices. Along with the rest of the settlement, these areas are dark places where things lurk in shadows and around corners–like dentists! The three offices–Chomper’s Dental, Dandy Dental, and, of course, Painless Dental–are closed, but two of them contain dentists who have been turned into splicers, mutant humans bent on mayhem, murder, and destruction.

In 2013’s Payday 2, we see a more complex and menacing take on the dentist trope. In this game, the Dentist is one of your contacts, a mysterious figure who offers risky but lucrative jobs. This Payday 2 trailer does a great job of playing off the distrust and sense of powerlessness that often underlies fear of the dentist.

Evil Teeth

Also in 2013, kids get the opportunity to briefly play dentist in the Swap Force installment of the popular game-and-toy series Skylanders. When recurring baddie Kaos uses an “Evilizer” to grow to gigantic proportions, he tries to swallow his nemeses, the Skylanders.

The Skylanders have to perform a much-needed cleaning on Kaos’s teeth, removing the petrified darkness crystals from his teeth, where they adhere like sparkly purple tartar. Kaos has some pretty bad malocclusion, too, because every time he bites down, his teeth only contact in two points, and the force from that contact sends dangerous shockwaves through his mouth. He should definitely take some time off from his evil plans and get checked out for TMJ.

Cheapies

In recent years, there’s been a huge explosion in free games designed to lure people in for a few clicks and exposure to massive amounts of advertisements. A lot of these are dental themed. It’s surprising, but true. The games often feature popular characters like Esla or Anna from Frozen, showing them with bad teeth, and you have to move various dental tools around to repair their teeth. Targeted mostly at girls, these games are almost all identical in mechanism, though dozens of variations exist for different characters.

A more mean-spirited variation on the free ad-driven game is Torture the Dentist, a sidescroller with graphics reminiscent of Commander Keen. In this game, you’re supposed to chase down the dentist and bring him in for a minty taste of dental justice. You’ve got to get your timing for the jumps just right if you want to catch him, though, he runs fast!

We’re not going to dignify any of these games with a link.

Helping Kids Brush

On a more positive note, there is a great video game out that (unlike its 1980s counterparts) actually helps kids learn to brush their teeth. “Grush” isn’t out yet, but it’s available for preorder. It promises to make getting kids to brush their teeth a lot easier. The toothbrush has advanced motion sensing capabilities that allows it to track how well kids are brushing their teeth. There are many different games that can be used to encourage kids to brush thoroughly, including one where they have to hunt down monsters hiding in digital teeth by brushing their own teeth in the proper places. This helps kids get their teeth cleaner.

Meanwhile, Grush tracks statistics for brushing so that parents can make sure their kids are brushing as they’re supposed to. The data can even be released to the dentist so that he can know how good your kids’ brushing habits are.

The Rhythm’s Gonna Get You

But perhaps the most innovative use of dentistry in video games comes from a leading edge rhythm game, called Psynchrony. In this game, you play a writer, Kay, who has become trapped in a stale life, and in order to break out of it, she has to find her natural rhythm and use it to penetrate deep into her subconscious dream world. There she must root out a shadowy figure that has haunted her for years. In order to do this, you have to tap your touch screen in rhythm with the actions Kay performs.

The announcement of this game focused on the toothbrushing mechanism for Kay. By tapping the screen in time with the rhythm, you help Kay brush her teeth properly. We’re assuming that this is only a small part of the game, but it’s a nice way to debut the rhythm action in the game and reveal the intimate nature of the game. Brushing one’s teeth is a solitary act and often a time for reflection on the day that is coming or past, so this is a perfect gateway for entering a person’s inner life.

Looking at this diversity of games that utilize dentistry, it’s clear that the subject is a fertile one for game designers. But if you’re tired of virtual dentistry and are looking for a real dentist in Grape Vine, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment at Grape Vine Dental Care.



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