Never before in history has a person been excited to go to the dentist, until now. Dr. Thomas Connelly has been working on the teeth of your favorite celebrities for years. And while patients left his office with smiles worth a million bucks, literally, they probably weren’t thrilled about the prospect of sitting in Connelly’s chair. Then a certain unnamed patient had an idea—what if they got tattooed while under the anesthesia, hopping out of the chair with a fresh set of chompers as well as a painless tattoo?
“I’m always like, ‘Listen, you're going to be under for five hours, you have anything you want to get tattooed because you're going to be asleep,” Connelly says. “It's pretty cool to wake up when you're getting full mouth reconstruction and you've got a huge Gorgon on your left pec.”
Connelly frequently shares his operating room with tattoo artists Ganga and Nene, with the dentist working on the patient’s teeth and the tattooer creating some art on the patient’s body. We’re used to seeing tattoo collaborations between two artists but this is taking things to the next level.
At Inked we’re used to getting the tattoo artist’s perspective, so we flipped the script and spoke with Connelly. We discussed what it’s like performing dental surgery with a tattooer in the room, his celebrity clientele and whether or not he’d want to be tattooed while under anesthesia.
Inked: Where did the idea of having a patient get tattooed while having dental surgery even come from?
Dr. Thomas Connelly: We do some pretty funky dentistry and we work on a lot of hip-hop stars, a lot of NFL players. The stuff I do is a little unconventional, meaning diamond teeth, diamonds embedded in teeth, etc. We do full diamond teeth for a million bucks a tooth, so we do some big-time stuff. Post Malone spent a million-two on his smile—24 carats of diamonds, two 12 carat diamonds in his teeth and every time he's gone under he's had Ganga tattoo him. Ganga’s done his whole belly and chest. It’s like, “You're going to sleep anyways, you want to get tattooed?” You’d never go to sleep just to get tattooed, it's almost sacrilegious, right?
As a doctor, we have to ask you, is there anything potentially unsafe about getting a tattoo while under anesthesia?
Yeah, not really because dentistry's not sterile at all, the oral cavity is just a load of bacteria. So, you know, Ganga, scrubs in, he wears gloves, he wears a mask. There's nothing dangerous about it at all. My procedures don’t have to be done in an operating room, we just happen to have one. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody had an open cavity, like an open heart open chest, it wouldn’t be safe.
Your body goes through a lot of stress as it’s being tattooed, what we were curious about was if people aren’t conscious would the tattooer know when the client is struggling.
There's an MD, an anesthesiologist, in the room plus there are also two anesthesia nurses. The operating room is fully staffed, all of the patient’s vitals are monitored from his heart rate to his blood pressure, to his brainwaves. It's probably safer than getting a tattoo awake. We have a finger on every little vital sign and we can change anything and monitor anything within seconds. The nice thing with Ganga, he'll say is that the patient, or client, doesn't move. You can press hard, you can do strong blacks and you can just kind of go through it. You don't have to keep taking breaks or you don't have people flinching or fidgeting. Ganga seems to be able to get four or five hours of tattooing done in only a couple of hours.
Cause they sit like a champ when they’re out.
A lot of times they're in a position that's comfortable for him that wouldn't necessarily be comfortable for them. Because they're out, they're on a table and we can just do what we need to do. It's kinda caught on.
Who was the first person to get tattooed while you were working on them?
I actually can't tell you because that person wants to remain anonymous [laughs]. That person was like, “Hey man, I got to have this done. Can we do that at the same time?” I was like, ‘I don't see why not.’ So we made it happen. Then we just started offering it because like I said, if I just go through my clients, we're doing funky stuff. A lot of these guys have massive amounts of tattoos. You know, whether it's Shaq or Da Baby or Post, they’re all like, “Getting tattooed, I hate that.” Everybody seems to be such a badass when it comes to tattooing. But, come on, if you’re going to go to sleep and you could wake up and your tattoo was done, who the hell wouldn’t want that?
We know that you have a couple of tattoos, do you wish that you had been under when you got them?
[Laughs] Nah, they’re just small. I have one on each shoulder, [Ganga] is going to do one on my forearm. If I did my neck or a face tattoo, yeah, put me under.
Does it make your job any more difficult to have a tattooer in there with you?
Not really. Ganga and I have done this enough time. We plan. For example, if somebody wants to get work done on their right side, it has to be when I'm placing the final restorations because I'm not as busy. But when I'm preparing the teeth and taking the teeth out and doing surgery, he needs to be on the patient's left side because I can't have him near me because I'm too busy.
They don’t cover this in dental school, do they?
[Laughs] Not really. Once somebody went to sleep that very first time we were like, “Oh shit, we should have done this, we should have done this.” Normally an artist has some participation from a client, but now they’re asleep. You may need to make a couple of decisions, we may need to move one or two things [in the tattoo]. I remember Post, who is so cool, he was like, “Fuck, I don’t care.”