Dr. Benjamin in the News

What's In a Smile? Brunswick Doctor Grinning Over Award

The Record, Troy
Date: November 7, 1999

MARTHA PETTEYS

On the shelf in Dr. Gerald Benjamin's waiting room, you won't find Newsweek magazines from last year. Nor, are there any McCall's or Redbooks celebrating dusty publishing date anniversaries like those often found in doctor's offices."We stay current," says the dentist, looking over the mini microscopes, attached to his wire-framed glasses. He calls himself a craftsman and designing smiles is his hobby. "I can not get enough teeth. I am nuts." He says while walking through his office.

Benjamin jokes that when he was a boy "penny candy" was just that. Sweets were cheap and this fact landed Benjamin himself in the dentist chair quite often. But rather than dread the visits as most children would he set his sights on dentistry as a profession.

Driving home from a dental conference, Benjamin missed his exit by 30 miles as his thoughts remained at the seminar. That day Benjamin vowed he would work to become, "world-class in cosmetic dentistry."

Seven years and 1,000 hours of training later, most would agree Benjamin has done just that; Benjamin has won the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry's 1999 "National Smile Design" contest held in San Antonio, Texas.

But bringing the smiles once reserved for Hollywood starlets and runway models to the Capital Region is not Benjamin's only accomplishment, though this alone is something to grin about.

He has also worked to set up the world's only Esthetic Dentistry Center within a university, at his alma mater, the State University of New York at Buffalo. On top of this, Benjamin is nearing the completion of his "Certificate of Proficiency in Esthetic Dentistry."

"Dentistry is my hobby. This is what I love," Benjamin says. Ninety Percent of all People would like their teeth to look better, he explains, whether it be whiter, straighter or stronger. "My enjoyment comes from looking at my work. That is what it means when you have a hobby," says Benjamin, walking into the procedure room where his patient settles into the padded dentist's chair.

Since Benjamin is the only dentist in his practice, there is need for just one procedure room. Here in the room of wall-to-wall equipment, Benjamin sees one person at a time.

His next patient is about to have a porcelain "onlays" put in two of her teeth. Onlays are like fillings, but they cover a bigger area and are stronger. The onlays are porcelain white, so at the end of the procedure, the patient's tooth looks brand new, he explains.

A turquoise rubber dam is secured over the patient's mouth, leaving only two teeth exposed. This keeps the area free of moisture, which is critical for the highly advanced bonding procedure to work properly.

Benjamin, with the help of his assistant, works smoothly through the multi-step procedure to bond the custom-made onlay into cavity in the patient's tooth. A laser is used to set the bonding.

What used to take over an hour, Benjamin has perfected to take only about 20 minutes, if all goes well. "It's a brand new tooth. This tooth is almost as strong as before it had a filling put in it," says Benjamin, admiring his work.

Benjamin is an "esthetic dentist. "But in order to understand what an esthetic dentist does, it is first necessary to define two other categories of dentist. The first is the "classic dentist," which Benjamin was before. A classic dentist performs needed routine procedures such as fillings, dental bridges, caps, etc... There is also the "cosmetic dentist," who performs work on perfectly healthy teeth to make them look better, Whitening teeth would be an example of cosmetic dentistry. Finally, an esthetic dentist does needed work in the most cosmetic way possible. For example, in esthetic dentistry there is no silver-looking dental work visible in the mouth. Bridges, filings, onlays and others are done with the use of porcelain and white resin, making teeth look brand new after a procedure, says Benjamin.

This is not to say Benjamin does not do some strictly cosmetic dentistry too, such as the affixing of veneers. Veneers are porcelain coverings bonded to the front of the teeth; to make glamour guy and gal smiles.

"This is WOW!" Says Benjamin, pointing to a after-shot of a 38-year-old patient who had veneers put on her teeth. As a girl the patient had a virus that turned her teeth brown, explained Benjamin. But now she has a beautiful smile.

Shortly after deciding to pursue his new dream of becoming a worldclass esthetic dentist, Benjamin couldn't push his alma mater out of his mind. He thought about the numerous dental students being educated there every year like he was, not getting the training in esthetic and cosmetic dentistry. He sent the dean of the School of Dental medicine a $5,000 contribution and a "scathing" letter admonishing the college for not preparing the students for what patients "wanted and needed."

The letter and contribution got the college's attention, and the dean of the dental school met with Benjamin several times. Two years later, in August 1997, the world's only Dental Esthetic Center within a university was opened at SUNY Buffalo to be used by undergraduate and post-graduate students.

Benjamin makes frequent trips to the new center, both to teach and to attend training sessions himself. In December, Benjamin will complete the necessary training to receive a "Certificate of Proficiency in Esthetic Dentistry," the first of its kind in the country.

His training and drive has propelled Benjamin to the top of his field. Earlier this Year, Benjamin submitted photographs and a patient case study to a competition open to the finest cosmetic dentists in the world. At the competition, Benjamin Browsed through the rows of entries and realized he was not only in their league, but he stood a good chance of winning. An hour later, a ribbon was placed on his case study, making Benjamin the first dentist in the area to win the prestigious "National Smile Design" contest. He has dedicated himself to continual training to get even better at his "craft." "Like any craftsman, you get better and better. This is not the end," he says.

As Benjamin chats, one can not help but notice a tiny sparkle from inside his mouth. The smile designer, who has made so many mouths look the picture of perfection, still has a silver mercury filling.

Questioned, Benjamin smiles, a bit embarrassed, admitting that he wants to get his teeth redone. But he has been so busy with his practice and his continued training, he hasn't had time.

Martha Petteys, The Record, Nov 7, 1999.