Friday, November 28, 2008

"Amazing Braces"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have fallen arches. This would be bad enough if they were in my feet, or even worse, if they fell while I was eating at McDonald’s. But these arches are in my mouth, which is often stuffed with either Chicken McNuggets or one of my feet.

Actually, my maxillary arch is the site of a dental dilemma. So, in an effort to defeat this archenemy, I recently got braces.

My oral adventure began when I went to the Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Dental Care Center to see Dr. Ben Murray, an orthodontic resident who told me that while most of his patients are kids, some of them, like me, are baby boomers whose teeth have begun to wander. In this way, they are not discernibly different than my mind, except my teeth can be fixed.

Of my 28 pearly whites, 26 are straight. The other two, one on the top and the other on the bottom, are as crooked as some of the bigwigs on Wall Street. Unfortunately, my teeth don’t qualify for federal bailout money.

Murray, a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the father of a baby boy who doesn’t have teeth yet, told me I could get "invisible braces," which would not, I regret to inform family and friends, make my head disappear. But I know they work because Murray himself wears them and I couldn’t tell. Then again, my eyes are in even worse shape than my teeth.

First, though, Murray and the Stony Brook staff had to review my case. Then I had to see Dr. Eugene Oh, an ace periodontist who gave me a series of "deep cleanings" that entailed freezing my face so I couldn’t talk for most of the day. The aforementioned family and friends were very grateful.

Three weeks ago, I made an appointment with Janet Argentieri, an extremely nice orthodontic coordinator. "You’ll see Dr. Murray next Wednesday at 10 a.m.," she said with a bright smile.

At the scheduled time, I was sitting in a reclining chair as Murray and certified orthodontic assistant Celeste DeGeorge peered into my big mouth, which resembles a cave but without the bats. All my bats are in the belfry.

I decided to get braces with ceramic brackets instead of the conventional metal ones, not just because they are more aesthetic, but because they match the cookware at home.

But these weren’t the invisible braces I thought I was getting. Those, Murray said, would be applied in a year or so, after these braces do their job, which is to push back the tightly packed teeth in the upper right side of my mouth so there will be room for my lateral incisor to be rotated to its original position. The invisible braces will then be applied to both my top and bottom teeth. A year after that, Murray promised, I’ll have the smile of a Hollywood star. I assume he wasn’t referring to Freddy Krueger.

"For now," Murray said, "we’re working on the right buccal segment of the maxillary arch to distalize that area and correct the Class 2 malocclusion."

"You took the words right out of my mouth," I replied.

What Murray put into my mouth was a track resembling a stretch of the Long Island Rail Road. It was a construction project that, I was relieved to find out, would not involve either jackhammers or dynamite.

"But we will have to use a blowtorch," Murray announced, adding that the flame would be applied to a wire not already in my mouth.

"You have very shiny teeth!" DeGeorge exclaimed. "What do you use on them?"

"Turtle Wax," I told her.

The procedure lasted less than an hour. It didn’t hurt at all, even without Novocaine, and the braces, which begin on my second molar, are mostly hidden by my cheek. This means I won’t be the star of a TV show called "Ugly Jerry."

I can’t chew gum (especially while walking) and I have to avoid such hard or sticky foods as peanut brittle, caramel and pizza crust. But I can still eat Chicken McNuggets to my heart’s content. And I don’t have to worry about fallen arches.

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, November 14, 2008

"The Eyes Have It"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I have always viewed myself as a farsighted person, a visionary who, like a great leader, could clearly see the world around me. After a visit to the eye doctor, however, I know I’m a nearsighted person, a double-visionary who, like Mr. Magoo, can’t see much past my nose.

Fortunately, my nose isn’t my most delicate feature, so I’m not totally blind to the world around me.

That’s how Dr. Howard Weinberg saw me when I went to see him.

I recently walked into Eyecare Unlimited in Coram, N.Y., humming Jackson Browne’s "Doctor, My Eyes" because I hadn’t gone to an eye doctor since the Clinton administration, which is what I put on the paperwork I had to fill out.

Weinberg, an optometrist who also is an optimist, looked at the form through a pair of stylish glasses and asked, "Why did you wait so long to get your eyes examined? A change of administrations?"

"It’s going on two administrations," I pointed out. I also thought I heard him humming "Jeepers Creepers, Where’d You Get Those Peepers?"

It must have been what he was thinking when he peered into my orbs through a machine that looked, at least to the untrained eye, like a small version of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Then Weinberg asked me to look at the chart on the wall.

"What wall?" I said.

He ignored the remark and told me to read the first three lines. They were:


"Very good," he said. "Now read the next three."

They weren’t so easy. Here’s what I thought I saw:


"You’re myopic and you have a touch of astigmatism," Weinberg said. "Do you wear glasses?"

"Yes, but only for driving," I said, handing him the pair I got a decade and a half ago. "They’re bent, so they make my head look lopsided," I added.

"Maybe it’s not the glasses," Weinberg replied with a smile. Then he explained that with my prescription, a 9-by-9 room will appear to be 9-by-12.

"You mean my house is bigger than I thought?" I asked.

Weinberg nodded. "Good news in a bad market," he said. "Maybe I should go into real estate."

Then he gave me a glaucoma test, which entailed using drops that dilated my pupils. While waiting for the solution to take effect, I thought of the Three Stooges and how Moe would poke his fingers into the eyes of Larry, Curly and, depending on the episode, Shemp.

"If they were my patients," Weinberg said, "I’d make a fortune."

Keeping with the musical theme, Crystal Gayle’s "Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" started playing in my head, except the drops made them red, which is their primary color.

"You don’t have glaucoma," Weinberg said, adding that I have 20/40 vision. "That’s not bad," he said. "You can keep the same prescription, but you might want to get more stylish glasses."

Weinberg’s wife, Jill, the smartly bespectacled office manager, helped fit me for a new pair. "I’d go with a more rectangular look," she suggested. "You have nice eyes. They’re very large."

"Like Barney Google’s?" I said.

"And you have an oval face," the good doctor noted.

"You mean I’m an egghead?"

The Weinbergs, a terrific couple with excellent senses of humor, chuckled and assured me that I’d look even better with "more modern" glasses. Because I’m a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, I chose a pair that will help keep my secret identity and might even put me on the cover of GQ.

"Now, when you drive," Jill said, "you’ll not only be able to see traffic lights and stop signs, but you’ll look good to other drivers."

As I left the office, I glanced in the mirror and hummed "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima