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When teeth are involved, nothing is accidental

Special to The Times

Not EVERYONE is cut out to be a dentist. “If you don’t like to interact with people, you’re in trouble,” cautions Dr. Joe Marini. “And especially if you don’t like to work in little dark areas, you’re really in trouble.”

Not everyone is cut out to play a dentist either, according to Marini, who, in addition to maintaining dual practices in Manhattan and New Jersey, works as a feature film consultant, helping actors navigate those little dark areas on screen.

A lifelong Jersey boy, Marini was an only child who majored in biology and played basketball at college. A roommate of one of his teammates went on to become a set dresser, and it was through that friendship that Marini ended up doing his first consulting work, appropriately enough on 2002’s “The Secret Lives of Dentists.”

He says his movie connections help bolster his roster of patients. “There’s so much food on these movie sets, it’s unbelievable,” Marini says. “They’re always eating. You know, it’s breakfast time, and then it’s snack time, and then it’s lunchtime, and then it’s snack time again. No wonder why they need dentists.”

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On his most recent set visit, Marini managed to avoid the junk food while ensuring that the dentistry and death comedy “Ghost Town” had some real bite.

Lights, toothbrush, action! During pre-production, Marini helped the prop master acquire the correct array of dental tools to clutter the office of Dr. Bertram Pincus, played by British comedian Ricky Gervais. “We had worked very closely with [the prop master] in ordering different things such as handpieces, mixing bowls, spatulas, hand instruments, gloves, trays, everything from the bottle of Listerine we used on the set to the Zoom! light that we had brought in,” says Marini. “I’ll tell you, the set was very realistic. I felt very at home there.”

He knows the drill: Unlike most dentists, who spend four years of graduate school learning how to hold a drill, Gervais had to learn on the job. “I believe initially he was going to do a cleaning on the woman in one scene, but they had changed it for us to set it up to do a filling,” says Marini. “We did have to throw a few different instruments on the tray, and I had to show him how to actually use the drill near the face, how to hold the handpiece. The only difference is I’m a lefty, and he’s a righty. I just had to show him how to hold it and where to rest his fingers on the face and all that kind of stuff. I mean, you hold it like a pencil. You don’t hold it like a hammer.”

Good impression: In one scene, the camera is trained on Gervais while he mixes a bowl of alginate for impression material, which is not as straightforward as mixing pancake batter. “I was trying to show him the motion of a dentist who really is a dentist, how they would do it,” says Marini. “And it’s almost like an exaggerated mixing process. We spent a little time on just getting the motion down. I was really amazed at how quick the guy picked it up. This guy’s sharp. I could have used him here in my office if I got sick.”

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Numb skull: Gervais was so detail-oriented that he wanted to look like a dentist even when he wasn’t doing any actual dentistry. “I remember at one point, Ricky Gervais asked me, ‘What do you do when your patient is numbing, and there’s nothing to do? Show me your motions,’ ” recalls Marini. “And I just showed him some mannerisms, and he picked them up right away -- like picking up my mirror and cleaning it with a piece of gauze, little things that a dentist would notice if he sees the film. And I’ll tell you what, the guy looks very dental. I even told him that on the set. I said, ‘You look more dental than I do!’ ”


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