Confessions of a molar explorer
As a guy whose only piece of jewelry is a wedding ring that I got 35 years ago and who thinks karats are what rabbits eat, I have never believed that it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that bling.
Now, however, I have a band of gold that even my wife would like.
Unfortunately, neither she nor anyone else can see it.
That's because it's in my mouth.
This exquisite piece is a fixed mandibular retainer, which was recently affixed to the back of my bottom teeth by Dr. Stephanie Shinmachi, an orthodontic resident at the Dental Care Center at Stony Brook University.
I got it at the end of my five-year treatment at Stony Brook, where I had gone because two of my teeth -- one on the top, the other on the bottom -- had been pushed out of alignment. To straighten things out, I got braces.
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.
I didn't have to worry about such calamities because I got invisible braces, which go by the brand name Invisalign and are made of clear plastic, unlike traditional braces that look like tracks on the Long Island Rail Road.
During my time at Stony Brook, I was in the capable and always gloved hands of three orthodontic residents: Dr. Ben Murray, Dr. Michael Sheinis and, of course, Dr. Shinmachi. All of them deserve to win the Nobel Prize, not just for being able to shut me up for extended periods, but also for being brave enough to work in a vast and forbidding place that resembles the Grand Canyon with molars.
Dr. Murray, who was originally assigned to my case, graduated after two years of working on me. He was replaced by Dr. Sheinis, who also graduated after a couple of years of treating me.
Dr. Shinmachi took over for the final year of my treatment and finished what turned out to be a beautiful job.
"I'm like the last runner in a relay race," she told me during my final appointment. "Dr. Sheinis handed me the baton and I took it over the finish line."
"It's a good thing you didn't put the baton in my mouth," I said. "There's plenty of room for one."
Dr. Shinmachi was far too kind to agree, so she smiled (showing off perfect teeth) and said, "I'm going to give you a retainer."
"I'm not a lawyer," I said, "but I've been admitted to many bars. And I could use the extra money."
Dr. Shinmachi was talking about the clear, braces-like trays that would hold my teeth in place now that I was done with my treatment.
"You can wear them at night while you're sleeping," she said.
"During the day I like to sleep at my desk," I replied. "Can I wear them at work?"
"Sure," said Dr. Shinmachi, adding that my other retainer, the mandibular one, will prevent my bottom teeth from relapsing.
"I call it gold bling," she said.
"Should I go to a jewelry store to have it appraised?" I asked.
"You could," she said. "Just don't try to hock it."
"Do you think my wife would like it?" I wondered.
"Yes," Dr. Shinmachi answered. "But it's not the kind of thing you'd want to get her for her birthday."
"I'll buy her a piece of jewelry that people can see," I said with my nice new smile. "And I'll put my money where my mouth is."