By Rory Winston
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Bella on Demand Beauty
Didn't even need therapy to rehabilitate my smile," croons Regina Spektor in her song Rejazz. Lucky her. Unlike the Russian born singer-songwriter most people need help with their teeth and occlusion. It's almost easy to imagine Spektor's phrase being answered by a chorus of disapproval, a chorus made up entirely of beaming dental patients who sing how they needed therapy to resurrect their smiles. As poetic justice demands, such billboard smiles owe their success to yet another talented woman of Russian origin. The second generation New Yorker, and third generation dentist I'm referring to is the highly acclaimed Dr. Irene Grafman – someone who is, for lack of better definition – a dental artist working within a genre of her own making.
Meeting Grafman is enough to convince anyone that her inspired approach is a result of both genuine passion and creativity. "I always loved art; at one time, I was pretty good at it," Irene explains as she restlessly surveys the room, "So much so that my teacher actually offered to help me get a studio should I decide to pursue it.
Of course, he said this to my parents who relayed the offer only long after the danger of me choosing that career had passed." Her eyes settle momentarily on a painting that hangs on the other side of the coffee shop. "You know, I was the only A (grade) that teacher had given in five years." Lost in reverie, she stirs her tea. "I grew up with a real love of art, sculpting, painting… I suppose it's why cosmetic dentistry became my favorite procedure."
Scanning my face with the intensity of an MRI, she explains, "My dad was a dentist in Russia and when he came here at the age of 35 he went to dental school all over again, just to get his U.S. license… In our family, everything's about dentistry. My father, his father before him… All dentists. But when asked in high school what career I wanted to pursue, my answer was, 'I am not sure, but don't get your hopes up because I am definitely not going to be a dentist.' Then it just happened. I sporadically worked for my dad to earn extra money. I saw how much he loved it. And I started to think, hey, you get to be your own boss, you choose your own working hours. So by the time I applied to pre-med I had decided." Running her fingers across the rim of the tea cup, Grafman explains, "Still the design aspect, cosmetic dentistry, it's what attracted me the most. After dental school I felt like I was just treating teeth and that didn't appeal to me. I wanted to make a difference in people's lives by making them look and feel better. So I started my journey in Florida at the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Studies.
I was keen on understanding how the whole face works – how to evaluate the entire structure…the proper size, the shape, how the jaw moves, aligns, the pressure exerted, everything that goes into the look and ensuring that things won't break or crack." Completing a wide range of studies, she continues to expand her knowledge to make the lives of her patients better by also attending courses on functional orthodontics, facial development and now her new passion, sleep and airway development. It can be said that Dr. Grafman entered the field of dentistry armed to the teeth with skills.
An Eye for a Tooth
Besides all the usual target-specific treatments,Irene employs a holistic approach involving noninvasive procedures like Homeoblock and DNA. Paradoxically, these can often affect the greatest change to one's overall appearance. The approach is a paradigm shift in the world of dentistry. Signs of aging – such as the face looking more droopy and caving in – take place because bones shrink with age.
Long term affects of such degeneration can mean anything from apnea – due to collapsing facial structures – to migraines to bad posture to a general breakdown in one's overall physical appearance. Combine that with collapse of the lower part of the face due to grinding and the aging appearance is greatly accelerated. Grafman's approach is an organic one. Instead of surgeries and fillers, she forces the body itself to self-correct. In a sense, it means: catalyzing a counter aging response rather than merely reversing signs of aging.
Grafman achieves this result by conservatively using appliances. The process results in an increase in the arch size of the mouth. The best part of these appliances is that they are non-surgical and need to be worn only at night. Patients note that they often see facial improvements with wider more beautiful smiles, permanent facial support that prevents premature aging, higher cheekbones, fuller lips and improved concavities and bags under the eyes.
Dr Grafman says, "When I got pregnant with my son, I decided to get myself tested for apnea. Knowing that snoring is often associated with apnea, I was extremely concerned for his safety and development. Finding out I had what was labeled mild apnea (where I stopped breathing 11 times per hour), I was offered only a CPAP machine. I knew that was something I would not use, so I started instead wearing oral appliances that would help and be more comfortable. While helping myself, I realized what a life changer a good night's sleep is. I never realized that the exhausted, foggy, forgetful feeling wasn't due to stress but to a lack of quality sleep. Sleep and airway is one of the most amazing areas that can improve quality of life. Most of us don't know how bad we feel because that is all we know."
Though every child may have sung 'the head bone's connected to the neck bone' at one time or another, it takes a very astute scientist to realize that recognizing and manipulating one part of the body can affect and heal issues with other parts. Since everything is connected, it's wise not to be so specialized that one overlooks interactive cause and affects both in terms of degeneration and restoration.
While making people smile may be the ultimate response sought for by a performing artist, it is also a valid way to gauge someone's overall self-worth. "You'd be amazed," says Grafman, "at how many times a patient comes in and I have no idea what the inside of their mouths look like even after a half an hour of chatting and laughing together. Why?" – Like many other self-conscious people, I knew exactly why even before she went on to explain, "Because these people have learnt over the course of years how to smile, yawn, and even laugh without showing any teeth.
What they don't realize is that the way they overextend their shoulders, slouch, and hold their necks tells me they have dental problems that have infected other areas of their anatomy as well as their psyche. Reversing the damage to a person's mouth changes their overall appearance.
It widens their smile, creates the sort of facial support that prevents premature aging, heightens the cheekbones, augments their lips so they look fuller and improves concavities and the bags under their eyes. Everything is connected. When the mouth starts to fall in on itself, the structures around it crumble. Likewise when the mouth returns to its original size, other things revert back to normal too."
Besides her son, Alexander, and her husband, Constantine, few things are as important to Grafman as her work. Forever rethinking strategies and juxtaposing approaches, Grafman has done more than sink her teeth into dentistry; she has turned it into an art form. Rehabilitating a smile is synonymous with renewing a life because what's skin deep affects us in ways that are far from superficial. "What's healthy is beautiful," proclaims Grafman, "There's no contradiction. When it comes to well being, inner beauty is a big part of outer beauty. We spend fortunes on clothes and cosmetic procedures but our smiles say more about our self-confidence than almost anything else."
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