How I straightened my teeth and realigned my thinking.
(Continued from page 1.) At age 22, I had the gumption to convince my parents, and myself, that braces could not wait. This time, I alighted in the orthodontist’s office with my own income and the determination to correct my assumption that my teeth, and my well-being, were not worth the trouble of harsh words between my parents or redirected financial priorities.
Now, however, I was as many as 12 years older than the patients lined up next to me in the assembly line of reclined dental chairs. Although I couldn’t recollect agreeing to any experimental medical procedures, the assistant placed a plastic gadget in my cheeks designed to reveal just how far they could stretch. As I lay there tasting the bitter orthodontia glue as the brackets were applied, three children rotated through the chair next to me having their braces removed. Two hours later, I was the proud owner of a mouth full of metal that would provide the physical comfort and emotional confidence I sought, but not without some unexpected hurdles.
My collection of metal caused the most physical pain I have experienced as my cantankerous teeth were wrenched into new positions. As a fellow adult pointed out, age did have one distinct advantage: along with the Advil the orthodontist prescribed to all patients to ease the pain, we could add a glass of wine. It isn’t a tonic the FDA would recommend, but it is highly effective.
Later, the orthodontist applied glue pads to my back teeth, propping my mouth open so my teeth wouldn’t crash into each other in harmful ways. I couldn’t close my mouth, let alone chew properly. I became quite a connoisseur of soup during the six months that dragged by before my teeth shifted. Beyond the physical pain, wearing braces at an older-than-usual age had its social consequences as well.
I found endless amusement in seeing a work colleague or new acquaintance notice my braces. There was a moment in the conversation where a glint of metal would draw her curious gaze to my mouth. Her face would slide briefly into one of pity as realization dawned. But, just as quickly, the look would vanish into a statuesque face of mock pleasantry as she tried determinedly not to stare.
I also learned that brushing your teeth in restrooms at restaurants is uncouth. But what was I to do? Whoever invented the shredded lettuce used on sandwiches was just plain mean spirited.
The endeavor of having braces was promised to be an eighteen month foray, but has stretched to almost three years of tightening, pulling and relocating my teeth. Over the time I have worn them, my braces have caused growing pains of a different kind. At a younger age, I was hesitant to cause any disruptions, even if, at moments, this meant sacrificing my well-being. As my braces stretched the ligaments and bones in my mouth into new positions, they also realigned my thinking about my self-worth. I am worth a few minor disruptions – be they between my parents or in my life when I face one of the innumerable instances that call for a little gumption.
I posted a sign in my house that reads, “Soon your braces will be off and you will be more comfortable and confident.”
They will be. And I am.