Oral High Jinks Singing dentist: Parkville's Dr. Sandy Cook doesn't whistle while he works, he sings. only his oldest friends dare to complain.

November 15, 1995|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

This won't hurt a bit. Really, not even when Dr. Sandy E. Cook, the singing dentist, hits the high notes on "Calypso."

If John Denver sets your teeth on edge, request Billy Joel or Elton John or a selection from "Phantom of the Opera." Dr. Cook can sing at least as many tunes as he has drill bits, and he has plenty of those. Patients come in, recline in an examining chair, don a bib, open their mouths -- and their ears.

"Come Monday, it'll be all right, come Monday, I'll be holding you tight "

The tenor voice drifts out of one examination room on a dreary Monday morning. Dr. Cook is getting set to treat Francis Clemens, a Baltimore City Fire Department battalion chief who has come to have an old crown replaced on an upper right molar and a new crown installed on a lower right bicuspid. Perhaps some distraction is called for. Try Jimmy Buffett's hit "Come Monday."

The idea is to "make it a more fun place, and to have a shtick," says Dr. Cook, a gregarious 47-year-old man who has been singing to patients since he started practicing on Harford Road in Parkville in 1977. "Everybody needs, like, a niche, something different."

It's tough out there for a dentist, what with so much local competition, patients being lost to HMOs, young children drinking fluoridated water and seldom getting cavities. A dentist has to do something to stand out from the crowd. A dentist might have to sing.

"I feel like you've got to use what you've got, and that's something I do.

"Basically I'm somewhat of an entertainer at heart," says Dr. Cook, who sang in an eight-piece rock 'n' roll band when he was a student at Towson High School. He still keeps an acoustic-electric guitar in the office waiting room and strums a tune now and then.

This 1976 graduate of the University of Maryland Dental School is a member of the Paint and Powder Club and performs in its annual musical shows. He's taken voice lessons privately and at the Peabody Conservatory, and sang "Somewhere" in a solo recital with piano accompaniment at Peabody three years ago. Not bad, local music mavens have said.

"Everybody's very complimentary as far as my voice goes," says Dr. Cook. "I mean, I know I have a pretty decent voice from my voice teacher and from doing solos in plays. I'm not deluded it's that great, but I know it's reasonable."

What nice range he has. Dr. Cook can hit the high "C" on Elton John's "Daniel" and even do the yodeling part in "Calypso." If pressed, he could simultaneously perform a root canal while imitating Bob Dylan singing "Mr. Tambourine Man." But perhaps that would be redundant.

"Actually, he's not a bad singer, he does all right," says Mr. Clemens, who has been a patient since Dr. Cook bought the practice when Mr. Clemens' old dentist retired. "Some people think they can sing and can't. If he's not singing, he's talking. It does take your mind off what he's doing."

Mr. Clemens says he's never objected to the singing: "I just lay back and take what's coming. He can do anything he wants to, it's painless."

Asked to describe how Dr. Cook sings, patient Anna Woods of Hillendale says, "Loud. Very loud. He's good. I mean, he sings better than I do."

The first time she heard him sing, he was performing a root canal on her. Funny, she can't remember the tune.

Since that day about 12 years ago, she's come to Dr. Cook for fillings, caps and implants -- devices set into the jaw bone to which permanent false teeth are affixed. This procedure is so demanding that when Dr. Cook does it, the singing stops.

"If I'm really concentrating on something, obviously you gotta shut up and do the work," says Dr. Cook. "If I'm putting an implant in, it takes 100 percent of my concentration to make sure it's parallel, make sure you don't go too deep, make sure you don't go into the person's nerve. So there are four, five things I'm concentrating on and I'm not about to play around. I don't want to even act distracted or act like I'm not giving 100 percent."

He won't sing if he's wearing a surgical mask, which he does whenever he feels the need to protect himself from splashed bodily fluids. And if a patient looks like he or she is just not in the mood, he keeps his mouth shut.

"You do get a sense," says Dr. Cook. "I don't do it with every patient every time, every day. You play it by ear."

If the singing drives patients away, he doesn't know about it. It's possible that "some people may want to go to a more serious place."

There was the time Dr. Cook was about to start a root canal on Ed "Bear" Jackson, a long-time patient from Cockeysville. The doctor came strolling into the examination room in full voice, as if he were a singing waiter in an Italian bistro. Mr. Jackson was not amused.

"I said 'Pu-leeeze'," recalls Mr. Jackson, a 43-year-old courier service driver. In his opinion, Dr. Cook sings well, but "we're such old friends I make fun of it most of the time. I have the feeling he's always wanted to turn pro" as a performer.

Sure, Dr. Cook has his fantasies: singing on Broadway in "Phantom" or "Carousel" or "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

However, this doctor's son never seriously considered performing as a career, although people sometimes say to him, "Go ahead, quit the day job."

"I have heard that a lot, 'Gee you're in the wrong business. You ought to think about some other career,' show business, singing or whatever. But like I said, I'm doing well at what I'm doing. I like it," he says. "A lot of starving singers out there."

Right. Those without dental practices, for example.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.