Orthodontist Budd Rubin Makes a Nice Retainer Treating Grown-Ups Now, Including a Wallful of Celebs

updated 02/25/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/25/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

I've gone to a lot of Hollywood parties crammed with famous people," says San Diego orthodontist Budd Rubin, 49, "and I tell myself they have their talent, and I have mine—I'm the one person on hand who can straighten teeth." Chances are he's straightened some in the room. Rubin specializes in braces for adults (they make up 60 percent of his practice), and he's worked on beautifying Janet Leigh, Kathy Nolan and Dick Smothers. Rubin has skied in Aspen with another patient, Jill St. John, and danced with still another, Diana Ross. "Not very close," he remembers. "She was pregnant at the time."

Orthodontics used to be strictly kids' stuff. But since the invention of the transparent plastic brace—which Rubin was among the first to use—many more adults are seeking treatment, mostly for vanity's sake. The results can be astonishing. "Sometimes their whole personality undergoes a change," says Rubin. "They've had negative thoughts about themselves, but now they know they're more attractive." He does turn down patients who think of "one crooked tooth as the cause of their failures in life. These people convince themselves their existence will change if that one tooth is straightened."

But Rubin is not bashful about his successes. When Diana Ross championed the Jackson Five and Motown got them booked on the Ed Sullivan Show, they were just five kids from Gary, Ind. with bad teeth. Though Rubin couldn't straighten their choppers on the one week's notice Ross gave him before the show, he did fit the group with temporary braces and gave Michael and Tito the full treatment later. Former Green Bay Packer Jim Hill used Rubin's services to get a new career as a TV sports-caster. "I'd had teeth knocked out and pushed every which way and I didn't look like anybody who ought to be on TV," says Hill. "With my teeth corrected, my diction and my appearance improved. I'm a better man all around."

Adult straightening takes between one and two years, Rubin estimates. Children often require two to three because of variables in jaw growth, and because youngsters are less motivated to follow home care instructions. He charges from $1,000 to $3,500.

A $1,100 job in 1946 got Rubin vitally interested in orthodontia—his own. When he was 16 a girl in his class twitted him for having buck teeth and, his ego dented, he got braces immediately. "They felt like wire coat hangers," he remembers, "but I thought the procedure was pretty neat. I'd always been interested in mechanical things."

The son of a San Francisco businessman, Budd graduated from UCLA, then took his dental degree at the University of Pennsylvania. After two years as a captain in the Air Force, he earned his orthodontic certificate at Illinois. Rubin began his career in Beverly Hills but, wearying of the Los Angeles traffic, opened a second office outside San Diego in 1963, then moved his entire practice there in 1974.

His San Diego layout is shipshape. Figureheads and nautical prints decorate the walls. Rubin's private office is marked by a "Captain's Quarters" sign. The dentist and his staff of seven dress in matching blue-and-white gingham shirts (except on Halloween, when they work in costume). If a winter sunset over Mission Bay is particularly splendid, he may flick off the office lights in midtreatment and exhort his patient to share the moment.

Rubin, wife Joanne, 48, and sons Gary, 23, Ken, 21, and Craig, 16, spend three weeks a year on the ski slopes. Compact and wiry, the dentist jogs or works out every morning and is an avid fisherman. Still, his work is his passion. Joanne remembers Budd once stopping to ask directions of a stranger. He drove off—the wrong way. "I wasn't listening," he had to admit. "I was looking at his teeth. Did you see those crooked incisors?"

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