THE DENTIST IS WEARING underwear.

Which is not, in itself, so amazing. Many dentists do. But Dr. Maria Colucciello, DDS, a 31-year-old Annapolis dentist, is wearing nothing but underwear as she lies across a bed, holding a coffee cup and smiling out at the readers of Newsweek, New Woman, Playbill and People magazines.

The dentist is modeling underwear. Jockey underwear to be specific. It's not an activity usually associated with the dental profession. Dentists are better known for drilling and filling and, if truth be told, for inflicting pain. But Colucciello has proven that America is ready -- indeed, eager -- for dentists in skivvies.

But that isn't why Colucciello got into underwear modeling. She got into it because her brother read that Jockey International was looking for "real people" for its ads, and he dispatched her picture and a letter volunteering her services. He even went so far as to sign her name to the letter. What a guy.

The people at Jockey International pondered Colucciello's underwear- wearing qualifications for more than a year before they offered her the job. At that point, she was compelled to wrestle with that age-old existential question: Do I really want to appear in national magazines wearing nothing but underwear?

Wrestling with the question took "about five minutes," she says, and in August, she went to New York for the photo session. "My Italian mother went with me," she says, "to make sure it was on the level."

The ad came out in December, and she loved it -- "It was done so tastefully" -- but she was a bit worried about how her patients and other dentists would react: "Would they think it was professional?"

They did. In fact, they were thrilled. Several patients came in to get the ad autographed. Several people who weren't patients came in seeking to become patients. A group of four (male) dentists from Arizona called to request an autographed copy, which now occupies an honored place in their office. And fame beckoned, in the form of Dental Management magazine, which wanted an interview.

To Eric Schroder, editor of the magazine, Colucciello and her skivvies serve as a very welcome antidote to the mad dentists in movies like "Marathon Man." "Most people don't really like their dentist," he admits. "So this is a kind of new image. I mean, she's not a real knockout or anything, but at least she's attractive and she's posing in her underwear."

And she'll be posing in her underwear again next spring when Jockey, bowing to popular demand, shoots a sequel to the ad.

Meanwhile, another lingerie company has asked Colucciello to model its briefs. Sorry, guys, Jockey has her under contract for five years or 50,000 molars. -- PETER CARLSON