My nurse got in touch with our local press and they came and did a piece on me, which then triggered The Metro, BBC news and ITV London news to feature me...Two weeks later Good Morning Britain asked me to cover a dental story...I’ve now done This Morning like 3 or 4 times, Good Morning Britain 3 times and Sky News.
19 February 2020
What sparked your interest to student Dentistry at Barts and The London? I was born in Iran and came to the UK when I was five. In Iran, when you’re a baby, there is a tradition where you put your child in front of a bunch of objects and each object symbolises a particular profession; whatever object the child plays with the most is what they are destined to do. I ended up playing with an empty syringe by pushing the air in and out and my parents were like “ooh he’s going to be a doctor”. My parents then ushered me towards medicine growing up and luckily I was good at science, good with my hands and good with people so it seemed like the right choice. However, I did work experience at school where I went on call with a doctor and it was such a hard job. I knew that I wanted a family and to do office-based hours, so when I did Dentistry work experience, which is a 9 to 5 job if you want it to be, I knew that it would be the right career for me to pursue.
Why did you choose to study at Barts and The London in particular? I wanted to stay in London seeing as I was raised in the South and I didn’t want to be too far away from family and friends. Having said that, going from South to East was a very new experience for me; the feel and vibe of the area was different - I never forget walking out of Whitechapel station through the market on the day of my interview and thinking, “where the hell am I?” But it still felt right. I also liked that Barts was a campus as I’d get the chance to mingle with students other than medics and dentists - I don’t think you get a real feel of people when you’re around the same kind of people all the time.
Can you describe your career path since you graduated in 2004, specifically can you explain how your persona of The Singing Dentist evolved? Let’s talk music first to put my journey into context. I was always involved in music growing up; my Dad was a producer so we always had studio equipment in the house, which meant that I knew how to produce beats and arrange music. I can also play the piano and drums. I started MCing in the Jungle days when I was 13, before honing my skills in the UK Garage scene around 1999 – the year I started medical school. I never lost touch with music throughout my studies; I used to MC at E1 (now Drapers), I had my own sets on radio stations back home, I was MCing in clubs on the weekend and throughout the week at club nights. I would do all of this, go home and get changed, and then head to clinic!
I qualified in 2004 and planned to sit the board exam for California, but the year I qualified they took the exam away and replaced it with a two year university programme. I was like man I’ve just done 5 years and now I have to do 2 more years; it’s also mad expensive in America, we’re talking about 60,000 dollars a year plus living expenses. Luckily, one of my tutors connected me with a dentist looking for an associate in Basingstoke so I decided to work while figuring out exactly what it was that I wanted to do. When I started working, earning money and building up a portfolio of patients, I got into the routine of being a dentist and when the owner of the practice approached me to take over the business, I accepted his offer. Long story short, 15 years later I am still at the practice. Over the years I have learnt on the job and honed my skills into the type of dentistry that I like to do, as opposed to doing any formal postgraduate dental qualifications.
Running the business has been a very eye opening experience, from practice management, to HR. I have expanded the business by building another surgery, hiring more associates and securing a big NHS contract. I also do a lot of private work alongside working in my practice one day a week. This is a blessing as I get to spend more time with my wife and young children.
Now, let’s get onto The Singing Dentist. One day in 2015 a song came on the radio and I started freestyling to it but talking about dentistry because I had a root canal patient that never turned up and about 45 minutes to spare! I parodied Drake’s Hotline Bling and sent it to my friend who is also a dentist. He was like "dude this is hilarious, you’ve got to put it online", but I didn’t want to as I thought it was a bit jokey and that dentists have a certain reputation to uphold. My friend put it up without me knowing and the reception was crazy, other dentists soon started sharing it and saying how funny it was – particularly my mad eyebrows which started doing their own thing!
This interested me and I thought, okay, let me create a brand and see if I can give oral health advice to people in a fun way through songs. The first song I actually crafted was Gappy, a parody of Pharrell’s Happy, because at the time the song was huge globally and I wanted to leverage this. I then done Sweet Eater, a parody of Omi’s Cheerleader – a proper summer banger – and my persona as The Singing Dentist kept growing from there. I did some songs that were socially and virally current and then some old school classics; my nurse got in touch with our local press and they came and did a piece on me, which then triggered The Metro, BBC news and ITV London news to feature me. Dr Hilary was away one week so I was asked to step in for Lorraine’s health segment – this was so surreal seeing as I had never done television in all my life! Two weeks later Good Morning Britain asked me to cover a dental story so I became the ITV guy for teeth! I’ve now done This Morning like 3 or 4 times, Good Morning Britain 3 times and Sky News.
Meanwhile I was still doing dentistry, but more and more opportunities kept coming my way because there has never really been an entity like me in dentistry before. People are scared of the dentist and they don’t want to go, so I used, and still use, my platform to change people’s perceptions of dentists and to inject a bit of fun into dentistry. Four years later I am still here and new opportunities are still presenting themselves.
Wow! Your growth has been so organic. This must be such an amazing feeling; why do you think you’ve had this level of success? I see a lot of stuff online like ‘oh this is marketing genius’ and ‘you must have loads of patients’, but these were never my intentions. My success has been accidental; I filmed the videos due to my love of music and I have always continued writing music on the side. If you watch my videos you’ll see that it’s not easy to parody the way I do. You almost feel like you’re listening to the original, not a song about teeth, due to my word play and how I rearrange the musical structure. I keep my videos between 1 and 2 minutes long and take the best bits of songs and chop them together to retain my audiences’ attention. So my videos are properly crafted for people to enjoy while subliminally absorbing the messages that I am trying to get across.
You juggle being a real dentist by day and a viral dental parody genius in your part time, how do you find this balancing act? As your popularity has grown in the public eye, have you found it hard to devote your time to your day job? I gradually started to cut down my days at the practice from 4.5 to 1 when both my children were born so that I could spend more time at home, so when The Singing Dentist stuff picked up, this process was already in motion. I’ve also established other business on the side, for example, I’m working as a consultant. It’s such a unique entity to have a dentist that’s in touch with the dental side but also the consumer and public side and the businesses that I am working for can see this. It’s good because I can help other dental companies and recommend good products, however, I’ve turned down so many promotional offers as my integrity is most important to me. My professional standing would be in tatters if I promoted a load of rubbish to secure a quick couple of thousands of pounds! I only endorse things that I actually like and use and that I think are great from a healthcare perspective. My decision to reduce my work for my family was the only thing that made me drop my hours, not to capitalise on these opportunities. I am in the position where I can take my kids to and from school but come September, they’ll both be gone Mon-Fri from 9am-3pm so I can increase my hours again.
How have your family reacted to your persona of The Singing Dentist and all that comes with it? My parents are so happy and proud. During dental school, I had two record deal offers that would have caused me to drop out of dental school and my Dad, being a musician himself, was like no way, music is such a hard profession, once you’ve got your degree you can do what you want. I experienced how tough the industry can be first hand when I accepted a single deal in my second year without telling anyone. I done a tour of Ayia Napa, it was great, but then Garage music died a bit so my single was never actually released. Now that I’m doing music in relation to my dentistry, my Mum and Dad love it and they give me all of the support and advice that I need.
I have known my wife since I was 20 and I’m 39 now, so we’ve been together through the whole journey. She knows music is my passion and she supports me so much in the background that it allows me to do the things that I’m doing now. She keeps me grounded - trust me there is no ego massaging from her, I’ll do a song and she’ll tell me if it’s weak. When my daughter was younger I used to use her as a filter for my songs in terms of her attention span, but now she knows that I’m The Singing Dentist, it’s a little different. I got her a phone with no SIM and I see her talking to it in the other room and taking pictures like I do, it’s so cute man. Music is a big part of my children’s lives, they’re always dancing and they have rhythm, which is so good to see. Music definitely runs in the gene pool because as I said earlier, my Dad is a pianist, my Uncle is a grade 8 composer, my Granddad was a musician and my Mum can sing and dance amazingly!
Congratulations on your huge social media presence – an impressive 154k subscribers on YouTube, 285k followers on Instagram and 9,505 followers on Twitter – can you describe the moment your videos really took off? My Instagram is mad, it’s just me and my personality. I show almost none of my dentistry; I don’t use it to promote my clinic. Yet I’ve got people coming from all over now just because they just want to see me! It’s crazy. There are a few moments for me where things really took off. The first was when I was featured in The Metro. People started sending me pictures like Dude, you’re all over The Metro and I was like oh my god this is massive. The morning after the article was published the phone in my practice was going mad with calls from the likes of ITV News and The BBC.
The next moment was when I did the Ed Sheeran parody – that’s when things started to go viral and LadBible started posting my content. I was getting millions of views as Ed Sheeran had come back after an exodus and Shape of You was the first song he released. It was such a massive record but I struggled to think of lyrics, I kept playing around with ‘Shave your Tooth’ but then my wife from the other room was like, why not use ‘Save your Tooth’ and I literally wrote the song in about 2 minutes and recorded it the next day. This parody exploded virally and the number of views went nuts. Every page posted it, I was like the ‘in thing’ for the week, the Ellen DeGeneres show even called and I done Australian and German TV live! Actually meeting Ed Sheeran was unbelievable; he was interviewed on Radio 1 newsbeat and at the end the presenters asked him if he had heard my parody. He was like yeah I have actually, I think it’s wicked. Then his management team called and said Ed was doing some concerts for The Teenage Cancer Trust and invited me to perform and meet the kids backstage. While I was waiting backstage Ed Sheeran walked past and we made eye contact and then like a minute later he came back and asked if I was The Singing Dentist and if he could have a picture. That little interaction was sick as he is such a nice guy.
Another thing is that I get recognised all the time; I mean my face is super recognisable: bald head, beard, crazy eyebrows. I get so many messages from people like, Dude everyone thinks I’m you and it’s just a Middle Eastern man with a big nose and a beard! I actually want to parody the Slim Shady song, I’ve written it, I need all my lookalikes to send in a video of themselves…
What is your creative process like? My process happens one of two ways, there will either be a topic that I want to talk about and then I’ll find a song to suit that topic, or they’ll be an undeniable banger that I can’t let slip by. There will be certain songs that I don’t want to do, but that I feel like I need to do. For example, Man’s Not Hot is a parody in itself; I was like mate I can’t parody a parody but everyone was demanding I do my own version, so I done Man’s Got Floss and it did really well! It also depends on my target audience, if I want to target kids then I listen to what they’re listening to and a lot of it is this new drill stuff. If I want to do something for mums, then I might pick an old school garage record or something that resonates with that demographic. Other songs write themselves. I was DJing at an event and when Return of the Mac came on, Return of the Plaque just popped into my head… so then I wrote a song about gum disease! At the same time I don’t put videos out a lot as there are only so many messages you can get across. I haven’t done one since Christmas so watch this space…
What projects do you have planned for the future? I understand that you already have two projects on the go – SmileWise and toothybox – can you touch upon both? SmileWise was born out of the fact that I get so many messages daily from people asking for dental advice and I’m like well I haven’t seen your teeth, I don’t know exactly what your dentist has told you and it’s impossible for me to help you as I’d need to examine you in person. So SmileWise is essentially a portal to connect patients with good clinics; the clinics become exclusive partners and they pay a fee that we use to market their practices and generate patients for them. However, after 6 months, we decided to take a step back from this project as it wasn’t sustainable the way it was, especially without budget and considering how labour intensive it was. However, we are now nearly ready to re-launch it after making changes, which is very exciting.
Toothybox was an oral care subscription service that I thought of about 4 years ago - you pay a monthly fee and every 3 months you get a new toothpaste and toothbrush. Logistically it was very hard to do so I kept holding it back and in the meantime about 30 new oral care subscriptions have come along and launched! Almost all of them have contacted me to be an ambassador but I want to release my own, unique service. My team is now exploring the environmental aspects of the service to give ours an added edge. My plan is to launch both of these projects this year! I also want to do more music as music is my passion; I want to see if there is a way I can transition to do non-teeth related songs.
How interesting! Do you think you will experience any difficulties trying to dissociate your future music with your brand of The Singing Dentist? I’d like people to potentially take me seriously but I can’t just keep singing about teeth. Ultimately, any success I have will have to come down to the strength of the song; if I can produce a great song then I will be recognised for my talent as opposed to my fun, gimmicky side. It’s a tender transition that I don’t want to get wrong as I respect music too much. I’m also writing a book, I have been for a little while, it’s so hard to write a book when you’re not a writer! My book has a bit of everything, it’s got some tips in it, some funny stories from my job as a dentist and a bit about The Singing Dentist – it should hopefully be out some time this year.
How is it doing live TV when it is you in the spotlight and you can’t get it wrong? It’s exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking. I do like nailing things in one take because even if it’s not perfect first time, I think that adds to the endearment and the character of the piece. With live TV I go through the same phases; I’m kind of alright in the lead up, on the day I’m nervous when I wake up but the minute I get to the venue I’m chill, and when they come and brief us in the green room I get excited, nervous energy and then when I’m live I’m genuinely myself, I don’t act or talk different. I start off by doing fun stuff and then some more serious messaging, which is what my brand is all about. I’ve done one or two more scripted things which I’ve enjoyed – I’d like to do more comedy; I’ve actually got a show in mind, I’m currently writing a pilot that I’d love to pitch to TV. I wanted to be the first dentist on EastEnders for a while too but they’ve got one now – he stole my role haha!
I can’t not mention your eyebrows… They seem to have a personality of their own! Are they au naturel or do you have to get them groomed regularly? Yeah man. I plan my shaves. If I’ve got an event coming up, I know I’ll have to shave that morning or the night before. I do it all myself, I shave my head and shape up the beard. I also do a little with my eyebrows, a little bit of manscaping in the middle as I was blessed with a monobrow. After years of them joining I had to be like ‘look guys, it’s time to go your separate ways’. There are some little grey spots that have started to appear in my beard, so before filming I colour them in. The reason being is a makeup artist on This Morning told me that the camera can sometimes make it look like you’ve got a patchy beard if you don’t colour it in! The rest is me, au naturel.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? University advice - definitely immerse yourself in university life, really enjoy it, have your fun but take your studies seriously and turn up to lectures. If you miss a lecture, definitely make up your time because there will always be something important that you missed. Don’t waste or lose the opportunity you’ve been given to get your degree.
Life advice - it’s a bit different for dentists as you typically train to be one thing, a dentist. However, for those that do different degrees, there is the chance to diversify in life. It is such a competitive world out there so my advice would be to take your time and enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing. If you’re in a job that you don’t enjoy, really reconsider it because the work to life ratio is so important and if you’re waking up every day hating what you’re doing, then a big chunk of your life is gone.
My biggest piece of advice is don’t segregate yourself, stay in touch with your uni friends, the friends that you have spent a big chunk of your life with because life can be lonely if you don’t; you’ll need help at times and you need a strong support network around you.
I’m guessing from your last piece of advice that you have kept in touch with your fellow alumni? I am still in touch with a couple of my afro Caribbean society ladies, but I am mainly in touch with my dentistry friends. We’re now trying to organise our 20 year anniversary from when we all met. It’s nice to see what people have done and where their careers have gone. I loved that at Queen Mary we were a small group and when you spend 5 years of your life with the same 55 people, you naturally forge close friendships. I used to pull some intense studying sessions for 3-4 hours with one friend in particular. I found it really useful studying with other people. In our dentistry yearbook we had a ‘most likely to’ section and under the ‘most likely to get famous’ line, everyone in the year wrote me which was so funny at the time. Now in the last couple of years, loads of my mates have been sending me screenshots of the picture and saying they were right!
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? I really enjoyed university life but I probably didn’t immerse myself as much as I could have as my home friends were still attainable, I could drive back home in 45 minutes to an hour. Whereas my friends who came from up North and abroad were fully immersed and lived in halls. My best friend from secondary school got into Queen Mary studying maths and the only halls that were left were the ones for married couples so we shared a room for a year. It was so much fun, we had all the E1 after parties at our flat as you can imagine!
During fresher’s we did a blind date event with Queen Mary’s and Kings’ medics and dentists and I got forwarded to do it. I thought it would be funny to do it as Ali G because at the time he was the most famous character on TV. So I put all of the Ali G clobber on underneath my normal clothes and then I gradually started to reveal what I was wearing underneath at the end of each round, much to the amusement of the crowd. Everyone went mad and I answered all of the questions like Ali G – I didn’t get chosen, I mean I don’t know why she went with the other guy… That set the tone for the rest of uni as everyone got my personality.
Another memorable moment was practising in clinic for the first time as it was quite nerve-wracking practicing injections on each other, taking impressions and gagging each other up. The day we got our exam results was also truly memorable. I was one of the first people to see the board and we had all passed; it was one of the first times ever that the dental school got a 100% pass rate. I turned around and could see a sea of people running towards me, I shouted "we’ve all passed" and everyone went mad – that was a sick moment as well.
Another one was the fact that I got an honorary afro Caribbean society membership as a lot of my friends were afro Caribbean. They would do a talent show at the end of the year and because I could dance and I came from a musical background, they asked me to help choreograph the routine. On the actual night one of the performers didn’t turn up. I took one for the team and jumped in haha – it was actually so much fun. MCing in E1 was also cool, at the time I was on the same radio show as the So Solid Crew. One night they had been booked at E1 and I was in the crowd. Out of nowhere Megaman stopped the performance and invited me up on the stage with them. I vibed with them all night and the whole uni went nuts, this moment really affirmed what I was doing on the MC side. I loved every minute of my university experience, I wouldn’t change a thing.