Periodontist works to his own beat

Dentist Michael Almaraz stands in one of his procedure rooms Tuesday afternoon.  photo by rick Gunn

Dentist Michael Almaraz stands in one of his procedure rooms Tuesday afternoon. photo by rick Gunn

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Michael Almaraz spends his day working in people's mouths.

The Carson City periodontist says he likes surgery. "Gum surgery, gum grafts, the whole surgical aspect is more interesting (to me) than fixing teeth," said Almaraz.

And when he's not moving tissue, he's beating the skins as drummer for the Mile High Jazz Band.

From his high school days, Almaraz knew he wanted to work in the dental field. He attended the University of Nevada, Reno, and received his bachelor's degree, then moved to Seattle to attend dental school at the University of Washington at Seattle.

"When I was first married, I lived in a funeral home. It was a long-time, family-owned business and was in a three-level home. The third level had been converted into two apartments. My wife, Michelle, and I lived on the third floor in one of the apartments. It creeped her out a little bit.

"It was a great thing (living situation). I could study and not be disturbed too much."

The only disturbances Almaraz received were phone calls to retrieve deceased persons from their home or care center, to take back to the funeral home. He worked for the funeral home while attending school.

Almaraz graduated dental school in Washington and headed to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for two years for specialty school (periodontics), graduating in 1994.

But surgery is not the only talent Almaraz has in his hands. He also has a keen interest in the musical field as the drummer for The Mile High Jazz Band.

"Big band jazz. That's my biggest fortZ," he said.

Almaraz has been playing the drums since the age of 8. He's not sure why, but he pleaded with his father to buy him a set of drums.

"It may have been my father's love of music that got me going. He always had music playing in the house. I've been playing pretty much ever since."

Almaraz, now 36, played in high school and received the Most Valuable Musician Award his senior year. He continued to play while attending UNR, yet skipped playing the years he attended school in Seattle.

"It kind of went to the back of priorities then."

After coming back to Northern Nevada, he picked up the sticks again and picked up a gig in the pit orchestra for Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company. Then the Mile High Jazz Band called.

"I thought with such a busy practice I'd be too busy for my hobby. But it's worked out. And the talent in Carson City is great. It's a blast."

Almaraz said his musical influences come from Buddy Rich and Count Basie. He also enjoys contemporary jazz and fusion.

"My favorite has got to be big band. It's very challenging. You have to read music very well. And, playing drums takes good eye-hand coordination. Maybe that helps in my surgery. I never gave it much thought -- both take a bit of dexterity, and foot coordination, too."

He does have a practice pad in addition to a pair of drum sticks in his office for practicing his drum rolls and other rhythms between patients.

After opening his practice in Reno, Almaraz moved to Carson City when he found many of his patients were coming from the Carson City area because there was no periodontist in town.

"I've been in my own practice since the spring of 1995, and it's going well."

Almaraz and his family, wife Michelle, daughter Janey, 5, and twins Elizabeth and Matthew, 11 months old, all live in Carson City. He beams when speaking of his family.

"The twins are a consuming thing, but a neat addition to the family and I love them. I love them all."


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