When Billy Joel said he was bringing a special guest onstage at one of his shows, expectations were high. Could it be Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney? It was his dentist, Dr. Gerry Curatola.
“I went up there, and I did a Sinatra tune,” said Curatola. “I sang 'The Lady is A Tramp.'” He was met with a standing, if confused, ovation, and was even invited back onstage when Joel performed at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
For Joel, and his other patients on Park Avenue, Curatola is The Singing Dentist, as well known for his serenading as for his work with a metal pick.
“My singing just naturally came out as I began to work on patients, and what I noticed was that when I was singing, patients were a lot more relaxed,” said Curatola, who has been singing since he was six. “It takes away some of the anxiety associated with going to the dentist.”
Said longtime patient Terri Wood, “We started joking that as a singer, he's a phenomenal dentist.”
The invitation to join Joel onstage came about at the dentist chair side, during a routine appointment.
“Billy turned to me and said, 'Hey Dr. Gerry you have a good voice. You sound like a young Tony Bennett.'” Curatola recalls. Bennett, an idol of Curatola's, happens to be a neighborhood in his apartment building.
“I asked Billy Joel, 'Would you ever let me get up and sing?' and he said, 'Oh, I don't think you'd do it,' and of course I said I would,” Curatola said.
Dr. Curatola continues to sing to patients at the chair side, many of whom are performers themselves, such as Wynter Gordon, who Curatola dubs the new Whitney Houston, and Eliane Alias, a Grammy-award winning Brazilian jazz singer and pianist.
“Sometimes they sing along with me,” Curatola quipped. “Except it's hard when I'm working on their teeth for them to be doing duets.”
Although passionate about singing, Curatola insists that he's just as passionate about the work he does. The same age he won his first singing award, at age six, he also discovered that he wanted to become a dentist.
Having completed studies at Harvard and obtained a master's degree in holistic nutrition, he focuses on overall wellness.
Robert Fraboni, a record producer, was rushed to Curatola following a serious dental complication. “I found that he had this amazing personality and as he was working he started singing,” Faboni said. “I was fascinated.”
Not just an added bonus, the music has become an adjunct to his holistic, homeopathic approach, Faboni said. “It changed my feelings of fear towards going to the dentist into something I looked forward to. I've never experienced anything like it.”
“I said we should do a trade, he works on my teeth and I produce a record for him,” he said. Although it hasn't materialized, “maybe we still will,” Faboni added.
Curatola has been practicing for 32 years. In addition to running his office on Park Avenue, he teaches at the New York University College of Dentistry, and invented a naturopathic toothpaste called Revitin.
The dentist stresses that the mouth is connected with the rest of the body, and overall wellness combines aspects of the mind, body, and spirit.
“What I try to bring across, chair side, is a joyful spirit. Music relaxes the patient and helps with the healing process,” he said. “Singing is a part of the whole approach to being a comprehensive holistic dentist, and it's the true essence of what this is about.”
So, what's the next step for The Singing Dentist?
“I want to put a baby grand piano in the waiting area,” Curatola said.