Jewish World Review / August 18, 1998 / 26 Menachem-Av, 5758

A dentist who causes a different sort of smile

By Naomi Geschwind

IF THERE IS A "NATURAL" set of conditions which would lead one to the ownership of a vintage í65 lime green-and-yellow Cadillac hearse with a giant plastic tooth on the roof, they would seem to have been fulfilled in David A. Breslerís life.

The car, bearing the vanity plate "CBUSTERS," can be seen in the driveway of Breslerís Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, home when itís not out doing street fairs, block parties and parades.

"It attracts quite a bit of attention," says Bresler, but then thatís the way he wants it. The "Cavity Buster Mobile" is, after all, just one of the unconventional arsenal of weapons in "Doc" Breslerís personal campaign for better pediatric dental care which also includes a puppet show, a web site, videoes, a television show, the Smiles for Miles bus and a lot of public speaking.

Bresler, 44, attended Temple Dental School and achieved board-certification in pediatric dentistry in 1990. He is an associate professor in Templeís pediatric dentistry department and a National Spokesperson and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric dentistry.

In private practice since 1982, Bresler has--through innovative marketing and a lot of good management--built up his business to the point where he now has two offices and over 100 employees, of which 22 are dentists.

Yet, because he is "Dedicated to raising a whole generation of children who look forward to going to the dentist," what Bresler is most proud of about his business is that it gives him the opportunity to touch and improve the dental health of tens of thousands of Philadelphia-area children.

Obviously, thatís a lot more kids than even a dentist with 100 employees could get to under normal circumstances. And, in fact, Bresler doesnít want to treat them all.

This is a man, after all, who hands out toothbrushes on Halloween. And kids are excited to get them because they come from "Doctor Dave," the guy whose family goes all out on holiday decorations to the point of having a hearse (albeit lime green) parked out front.

Bresler just loves kids (not just his own three), loves dentistry, and loves helping kids to help themselves by teaching them some fundamentals of oral hygiene. Thatís why his "Cavity Busters" program is more than just a marketing concept, itís a major public service effort which he underwrite to the tune of $175,000 a year.

One segment of the campaign has even drawn citations from the Philadelphia City Council and the State House of Representatives: The Cavity Busterís puppet show, an outgrowth of a strange bit of synchronicity in Breslerís life.

Breslerís oldest son, Josh, is at Penn State. As a freshman he befriended Yoni Schwartz, stepson to Mark Segal, a puppeteer. When Josh mentioned to his father that his friendís stepfather did puppet shows for another pediatric dentist he then discovered that Bresler had already considered acquiring that practice.

So Segal and Bresler came together in aid of dental health. As Segal says, "It was bashert."

Segal studied acting at Boston University. He trod the boards for a time before becoming disillusioned with the way in which business was taking over the theatre. In reaction he took up puppetry.

Segal says that the dental hygiene show had been Segal Puppet Theatreís "bread and butter" for some 12 years, permitting him to indulge in what he calls "My real passion:" Jewish puppet plays. Those shows, usually in conjunction with accordionist Benjamin Laden, are a holiday entertainment fixture at Delaware Valley synagogues.

However, Bresler brought a new and non-commercial tone to the dental show which helped Segal to see it as an even more worthy venture. It also began to take up most of Segalís time with a schedule calling for an average of three shows a day five days a week throughout the school year.

Segal waxes poetic about the manifold joys of working with Bresler while also noting that "We are very different people."

Superficially, yes: Bresler is a clean-cut type while Segal sports a beard and ponytail. Segal is fairly Orthodox, so Bresler has had to learn about kashrus so that they could eat together. Things like that.

What makes the partnership work is that the men share the sort of goofy humor that kids love, and want to improve childrenís lives.

To make that happen Bresler says, "We go anywhere that weíre asked to go. For free!"

So, Segal and dental educator and actress Lori Grosseibl visit schools and daycare centers anywhere within a 60 mile radius of the city. Recent venues have been as diverse as urban South Philly and suburban Jarrettown. 300 kids came to a recent show in the decaying neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion and, Segal says, "The teachers loved it. They usually donít get this kind of thing in Strawberry MansionĒ"

Bresler says that sending the show to places like that is important to him because the information the show provides is more needed there than it is in the relatively affluent areas near his offices.

Targeting two to seven year-olds, the show gets across some dental health basics. "Puppets get across information that a teacher couldnít," Bresler notes.

For instance, a teacher might have trouble conveying that children shouldnít be afraid of their dentists. To get that across the show starts with a cowardly dragon who needs reassurance that the kids in the audience are his friends.

"Itís perfectly natural to the kids that he should be afraid of them," comments Bresler who sees the kids getting the analogy when the dragon is told he doesnít have to fear them any more than he fears his dentist.

Next, the show starts developing what Bresler calls a "mantra" of "If itís sticky and sweet, itís a yukky treat." To get that across, Zebo, a puppet, and Grosseibl check out what Zeboís mom packed him for lunch. Pretzels get the thumbs up while fruit leather fails the test.

At the end of each performance every child gets a bag containing a toothbrush, a coloring book, dental emergency information for parents and a refrigerator magnet. At about a dollar a piece some 35,000 will be distributed at puppet shows alone over the next year.

And the kids eat it up. Fortunately, though, the puppet show is one treat guaranteed to be good for their teeth.

New JWR contributor Naomi Geschwind is a writer based in Philadelphia.


©1998, Naomi Geschwind. A version of this article appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.