Yep, I’m that girl.
The one who waited until her late thirties to get braces. I used to look at adults and wonder why they’d bother going to the trouble…I mean, if they’d lived with their teeth for more than three decades then it must not have bothered them too much. What was the point?
And then I hit my thirties.
I realized that my teeth were something I really disliked, and as a grownup I was in a position to finally do something about it. If I was willing to endure the embarrassment of being a metal mouth for a few years, that is…
You see, it wasn’t just that my teeth were crooked. That would have been a relatively simple fix, and one we probably would have taken care of when I was a teenager. My issues were a little more complicated than that, though. (Big surprise, right?) If we’re looking to place blame for my dental problems, it lies in both the genetic and behavioral realms.
I sucked my thumb for years, so I was at fault for my top teeth tilting out at an extremely odd angle. My father then performed what I like to call our “at-home orthodontia plan” where he had me self-correct my teeth while watching tv. That’s right, I literally fixed my own top teeth by pushing back against them with my thumb in my spare time. It turned out that I slightly over-corrected my teeth doing this so they ended up tilting slightly back toward my throat, but whatever. Problem solved, per my dad.
The genetic factor would be my actual bone structure. My lower jaw was recessed, so even if my teeth were perfectly straight I still would have had an overbite because my upper jaw protruded. Nature was not my friend.
I still vividly remember the dental assessment from my early teens. The one where the orthodontist agreed that yes, I would benefit from treatment but that I had a bad overbite, so “fixing” my teeth would involve not just braces but headgear as well. I believe his comment to my mom was something along the lines of “she’s a cute girl, it would be a shame to put her in headgear.”
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this medical assessment. Not that I would have been terribly psyched to wear headgear in middle school, but it doesn’t really sound like he was taking the long-term perspective into account. I haven’t been to dental school, granted, but I’m pretty sure they’d emphasize best medical practice over teen social status concerns.
At any rate, I escaped childhood without addressing my smile (with the exception of that at-home orthodontia). Which would explain how I found myself in my late thirties with two kids in preschool, making an appointment for an evaluation by a local orthodontist.
The news wasn’t good.
All of my friends who were doing late-in-life dental cosmetics were using those invisible braces/retainers, the ones that were a pain in the butt to them but not painfully obvious to the entire world. I wasn’t a candidate for those because – wait for it – just fixing my teeth would actually make things worse.
That’s right, people. Straightening my teeth and correcting their backward slant would actually increase my overbite. For the love.
To achieve what I considered a reasonable goal – straight teeth with a nice smile – I would have to wear metal braces for a couple of years, have jaw surgery, wear the braces for 6-9 more months, then wear a series of retainers to complete the process. Oh, and wearing a retainer nightly for the rest of my life was a given.
Yikes. We’re talking serious commitment here. Lots of time. Inconvenience. Painful procedures. Plus a horrifying price tag. And BrightSide, bless his heart, said he’d support whatever decision I made.
Like a fool, I dove right in without a backward glance. Because I am nothing if not committed once I sink my teeth into an idea.
As anyone who’s suffered through braces can attest, the challenges were endless. Things that used to be simple to eat became some kind of Olympic event. Certain items dropped off my food list altogether (MAN, I missed corn on the cob!), and almost everything else left food in every nook and cranny. Previously a restaurant fanatic, eating in public became my own personal hell.
And good grief, those rubber bands! I’m not really a puzzle person, so reproducing those bizarre configurations several times a day was ridiculously challenging. I can’t count the number of times a kid wandered into the bathroom to find me peering into the mirror, holding a rubber band and muttering to myself, “Okay, you can do this. Top second tooth to bottom third. Top fourth tooth to bottom second. Or is it third? Crap. Where’s that diagram again?!”
Plus who knew that freaking rubber bands could hurt so much?! I swear, I couldn’t eat for two days after they’d make an adjustment and my teeth were moving. We pretty much kept the milkshake and slushy places in bank during that block of time, with BrightSide getting near-daily texts to bring something home after work. (Have I mentioned how cranky I get when I can’t eat? Yeah. Not so pretty.)
The jaw surgery itself is another post entirely. We can simply refer to those as the Dark Days for now.
I was really happy when all was said and done, though I still hesitate when BrightSide’s mom asks if I’d do it all over again knowing what I do now. Some days the answer is yes and some days it’s no, depending on how vivid my pain recall is at that particular moment.
But either way, this feels like the first big medical decision I made just for me. Seeing it through to the finish, though painful at times, had its rewards.