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Finding Marcia

Aug. 1, 2003
A hygienist helps the fish in "Finding Nemo" learn how to discuss a root canal.

by Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH

Finding Nemo, the newest computer animated feature film from Pixar, has a sweet dental twist to it. Without giving too much away to those of you who haven't seen it, part of the story takes place in a fish tank located in an endodontic office in Sydney, Australia. In one of the scenes, a fish is taking great delight in giving a play-by-play description of an endodontic procedure to the other fish in the tank that "show up" late. I was the only person in a sold-out theatre laughing because the fish were accurately describing a real endodontic procedure! Even though the animated dentist was not following the described procedures, it was still a delightful surprise. My kids sat and whined through all the credits because I had to see the name of the dental person who got credit for the great dialogue. The name Marcia Peck, RDH, was prominently listed at the bottom of a long list of names. I grabbed a piece of paper and thought, "What a fun job! I've got to find her and talk to her!" Finding Nemo soon became "Finding Marcia," and I went sleuthing to find her. With a bit of luck and diligence, my ship came in on the third try.

Click here to enlarge image

Marcia Peck, RDH, was very surprised to hear from me. It turns out that as a joke, her patient — Nemo co-creator Bob Peterson — apologetically told her the dental scene she had contributed had been cut out of the film. Marcia missed the premiere and was unaware that not only was all the accurate endodontic dialogue in the film, but she also got credit at the end. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

Marcia practices in Marin County, California, right in the heart of entertainment companies like LucasFilms, Industrial Light, Magic and Pixar. Her patients work in these companies, and her ex-husband was CFO of LucasFilms. Pretty exciting place to live for a girl from the farms of Nebraska!

"I went to the University of Nebraska and was in the Arnold Air Force-ROTC flight school," says Peck. "I took a lot of science classes and got my pilot's license. I wanted to go to Viet Nam and be a fighter pilot. I was the only girl out of 50 cadets, and I guess they just forgot that I was female. I applied to the Air Force Academy and they turned me down because I was female. They said no women were allowed to be fighter pilots, and were amazed that a female had gotten so far in training. So there I was, trying to figure out what I was going to do with all these science course credits."

Peck settled on dental hygiene because all her science credits transferred over, although she didn't know what a dental hygienist was. "I grew up in a small town and the dentist did the cleanings." She now sees the decision as destiny, as she moved to California and has been practicing for 31 years. Even more amazing, she has been working full time for the same three dentists for the past 20 years. "I'm so blessed!" she gushes. "It's a great occupation."

But how did she contribute the dental dialogue for the film?

"Well, you know how we hygienists are with our patients, "she said, "We talk! Bob Peterson, the co-creator of Nemo, is a patient of ours. My employer, Dr. Roni Douglas, also contributed to the film and is listed in the credits. Bob told me about a year ago that they were going to do a film about a little fish. I thought that sounded like a cool idea. So one day Bob calls me up and says the fish aquarium will be in a dental office and he asked me what procedure I thought the character should be performing. I said have him do a root canal! Sometime later Bob called back and said I think this will fly, but can we get the right instrument names and correctly describe the procedure?" Obviously Marcia said, "Yes." But it took some quick thinking on her part.

"I had not been exposed to endodontics since college, and the dentist I work with was out of town. But we have a group of fabulous endodontists that are all Boston University grads here in California that we refer to." Peck pulled an endodontic record out of a patient chart and was able to use the doctor's referral notes to help describe a detailed endodontic procedure to Bob Peterson over the phone. "I called Sue Larsen, our dental assistant in and had her sit down to help me figure out what each scene would be like. We listed out the sequence of events and how the fish would react to it. We gave him a word for word depiction of a root canal!"

When Bob called months later with the "bad" news that most of the dental info was cut out, Marcia knew that's how the business goes and didn't think anything of it. It was when her phone started ringing with people congratulating her that she realized she had been fooled!

"I'm delighted!" says Peck about her film writing debut. But Peck is more than a hygienist and occasional screen writer. She also has a professional photography business and is an avid sailboat racer. "I came here, bought a sail boat and started racing, because flying transfers to sail boat racing real easy," she said. Peck belongs to five yacht clubs. Her love for photography has taken her to exotic places around the world, including China, Tibet, New Zealand, and Machu Pichu, just to name a few. With her photographs, she encourages and empowers women to travel and explore the world.

With her children grown and out of college, Marcia says her philosophy is to "stay alive and enjoy the ride." I think even little fish Nemo would agree that a little adventure in one's life is what it's all about. I think Marcia had an adventure and so did I.

Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a frequent contributor. She is based in Clarkston, Mich.