By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have often been told, generally by people who need glasses, that I have a nice smile. I don’t know how they can tell because these same people are always saying that whenever I open my mouth, I put my foot in it.
So I would like to get something straight: my teeth.
Over the past several years, a couple of my pearly whites – one on the top, one on the bottom – have begun to wander. This is what my mind frequently does. At such times, my eyes will glaze over and I will break into a goofy grin that exposes 26 flawless teeth, as well as the two crooked ones that apparently have been pushed out of alignment by my size 11 foot.
To correct my dental dilemma, I have decided to get braces.
According to my dentist, Dr. Salvatore Trentalancia, who has a practice in Stamford with Dr. Craig Clabaugh, this is not uncommon among baby boomers who, like me, did not have braces when they were young.
How well I remember my unfortunate classmates who answered to the name "metal-mouth" and were warned, by sympathetic friends such as myself, to watch out for flying magnets. Now, at the ripe age of 54, I may end up looking like the grille of an old Ford Mustang. At least I don’t have zits anymore.
If I’m lucky, I’ll be fitted with something new called "invisible braces," which supposedly aren’t detectable to people who think you have a nice smile.
To find out if I qualify for braces, either traditional or trendy, I recently went for a consultation at the Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Dental Center, which is close to my house and has an excellent reputation as a teaching facility.
Dr. Ben Murray, an orthodontic resident who graduated last year from the University of Connecticut, was assigned to straighten out the situation.
Although Murray is, at 29, young enough to be my son, in which case he’d never have gone to dental school because I couldn’t afford the tuition, he immediately won my confidence. Not only does he have an easy manner and a playful wit, but he also has good roots: His father is an orthodontist and his grandfather was a dentist.
"Did you have braces when you were a kid?" I asked.
"Yes," Murray replied. "For four months. I was in fifth grade and I was a horrible patient for my father. I wouldn’t come in for appointments. Finally, I had enough of braces and asked my father to take them off."
"Are they that bad?" I wondered nervously.
Murray smiled, showing off nearly perfect teeth, and said, "No. I bet you’ll be a better patient than I was."
But first, I had to make a good impression. This entailed getting impressions made of my teeth. After a battery of X-rays numerous enough to make my head glow, even without a battery, I settled into a chair and opened wide as Murray gently inserted a pair of lip retractors into my big mouth. They made me look like the Joker on "Batman," only this time the joke was on me.
Then Murray stuck a mirror in there and began taking pictures. The inside of my mouth resembled the Grand Canyon with molars. I was going to suggest that the photos be sold as postcards, but I couldn’t talk. For this outstanding achievement, Murray deserves to win the Nobel Prize.
After the photo shoot, Murray took out the lip retractors and inserted some waxy matter so I could make a wax bite, which is probably the closest I will ever come to being in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Murray then asked me if I was having a gag reflex. I was going to say that my reflex is always to pull a gag when Murray said, "Last week, an 8-year-old boy threw up on me." As a good patient, I decided not to bring the matter up.
Now it was time for my impressions. Murray handed me a bib and some napkins. "You are going to drool," he assured me.
"There’s no drool like an old drool," I said, at which point Murray shut me up by putting some seaweed-based material into my mouth, first on the top, then on the bottom. The stuff was like Play-Doh, only not as tasty.
"Don’t bite down," Murray warned, "or you won’t be able to open your mouth again." I think he was trying to use reverse psychology.
When it was over, Murray said that my case would be reviewed by the staff, including Dr. Richard Faber, director of postgraduate orthodontics at Stony Brook, to determine what kind of braces I would need.
I am waiting to hear back. In the meantime, I guess I should take the foot out of my mouth.
Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima