Early film showcased everything from horror to zany comedy to … dental education films.
Yes, that’s right, one of the uses of early silent film was to educate children on proper dental hygiene!
One of the first films of its kind, Tommy Tucker’s Tooth (1922) was produced by none other than Walt Disney, six years before he introduced the world to Mickey Mouse in 1928 in Steamboat Willie.
In December of 1922, a Kansas City dentist named Thomas B. McCrum went to the office of the Laugh-O-Gram film studio, where a very young Walt Disney was working; he wanted Disney to create an educational film about children’s dental health. He signed a contract with Disney to have him produce and create 500 copies of the film called Tommy Tucker’s Tooth. Disney went on to use the money from this production to move to Hollywood and start up his own cartoon studio.
The resulting production was a silent, 15-minute live-action film with animated inserts, focusing on two boys, Tommy Tucker, a young man who takes care of his teeth and appearance, and Jimmy Jones, who neglects his oral hygiene. When Tommy is hired for the job both youngsters apply for, Jimmy realizes the error of his ways, cleans up his mouth and his act, and eventually finds gainful employment.
Disney produced another dental film for Dr. McCrum, called Clara Cleans Her Teeth. The role of Clara was played by Disney’s own niece. By then, he had a studio set up in Hollywood and the credits on this picture reflect that. Disney went on to make more educational films for the dental market for 30 years, as well as produce plenty of cartoons starring everyone’s favorite mouse, Mickey.