When it comes to dentistry, I know the drill: You sit in a chair, open wide and brace yourself as the tooth doctor tries to get to the root of the problem.
Fortunately, drilling hasn't been needed to solve my current dental dilemma. But braces have been, although you won't see them when I open wide to reveal the oral equivalent of Mammoth Cave because these braces are invisible.
For this painless treatment and the promise of a nicer smile, I have to thank Dr. Ben Murray, my orthodontic oracle, who recently graduated from the dental program at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y.
In Murray's three years as a resident at Stony Brook, I was one of his most challenging cases, even more challenging than the case of beer I am sure he needed (but would never actually consume) each time he saw me.
That's because two of my teeth, one on the top and one on the bottom, have shifted, which is amazing since I can't shift for myself. The one on top, a lateral incisor, has been especially troublesome because the other teeth have had to be moved back so there will be room to rotate the incisor to its original position, which is not shortstop but, if you are scoring at home, right field.
"It's on the right side," said Murray, who had to construct, attach and constantly adjust a separate set of braces. "This," he explained, "will distalize the maxillary arch in the right buccal segment and correct the Class 2 malocclusion."
He took the words right out of my mouth. At least he wore gloves.
In the year and a half since the braces were put on, Murray used wires, pins and screwdrivers but not, thank God, jackhammers or dynamite.
And none of it hurt a bit, thanks to the able assistance of able assistants Celeste DeGeorge and Grace Ratigan, who helped Murray work tooth and nail to straighten out the situation. I don't think any of them broke a nail, but I did break a tooth when I got my invisible braces. They are different from the ones on top, a more traditional kind that are mostly hidden by my cheek.
The invisible braces, known by the brand name Invisalign, were not worn by Claude Rains, who played the Invisible Man, because they weren't invented yet. They look like mouth guards used by football players. The difference is that they are clear, which makes them -- you guessed it -- invisible.
They are designed from impressions made of a patient's teeth, so they fit snuggly. Unfortunately, as I snapped on my first set, the crooked tooth on the bottom broke, so I had to go to my regular dentist, Dr. Salvatore Trentalancia, who has a practice in Stamford, Conn., to get the tooth bonded -- James bonded.
"He did a fantastic job," Murray said of Dr. T, who goes by that nickname because it is tough to say "Trentalancia" while your mouth is open wide. Dr. T got able assistance from assistant Jo-Ann Rachinsky and hygienist Amy Manzano.
During my final visit with Murray, a 2007 University of Connecticut graduate who landed a job with a practice north of Boston, he said he discussed my case with a class of dental students.
"It was very interesting to them," Murray said.
"Maybe you'll win the Nobel Prize," I suggested.
"You never know," replied Murray, adding that I have been "a very good patient" who has "taken our torture pretty well."
It has hardly been torture, but it's hardly over either, because Murray left me in the capable hands of Dr. Michael Sheinis, a second-year resident who said, "I've heard a lot about you."
Sheinis, a brave man to be taking on my case, will soon remove the traditional braces from my right upper teeth and replace them with Invisalign to match the invisible braces on the bottom. Both sets will cover all my teeth.
In less than a year, I'll have a Hollywood smile. In the meantime, just call me the Invisible Man.
Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer." More info at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. E-mail: JerryZ111@optonline.net.
Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima