Tales of Woe

braces gone bad

The Disappearing Dentist
by Mike, age 38, from Nebraska

When I was 9, I wore braces for nine months to correct a severe cross bite in which one of my top two front teeth was behind the corresponding bottom tooth, threatening to push it right out of my mouth. I had 2 molar bands and 4 brackets on top starting in January of '74, then added 2 molar bands and 4 brackets on bottom plus a bite plate so I didn't bite off the bottom brackets in May. The cross bite was corrected and everything was removed that October. The ortho said that once most of my other permanent teeth came in, he recommended braces on all teeth to solve various other less urgent problems. I had X-rays and impressions in ninth grade (spring 1979), but money was tight, so I didn't get my second set of braces at that point.

Fast forward to summer 1989. I had moved to a new town and found a dentist. In the dental office's quarterly newsletter, it said his office did minor orthodontics and urged patients to request a free consultation. Knowing I was a decade overdue for my second go-round with braces, I scheduled a consultation. After X-rays and impressions, the dentist estimated 18 months of fixed-appliance wear. In August 1989, I got ceramic brackets on all top and bottom teeth except the molars. The first molars got metal brackets, and the back molars got nothing. My problems included a David Letterman-type gap on top, minor cross bite on both sides around the canines and some overlapping bottom teeth. 

Here's where the disappointment part of the story starts: That February, the dentist sent a letter to all patients saying he was moving to Arizona to take a job in the computer software business. At my next appointment, he took impressions and told me to schedule a braces-removal appointment. Though the gap was gone and some of the other problems on the way to being fixed, I expressed concern that the teeth weren't ready for the braces to come off. He assured me the retainers would both hold in place what had just been moved into place and would also be built to create more movement to solve other problems. Like a fool, I let him take the braces off at the next appointment that April and started wearing the retainers. It was the last I ever saw of the dentist, though I was given a post office box to send my remaining payments to.

Despite 24/7 retainer wear, the gap between my two front teeth was back within a week. I called the orthodontist whose name the dentist had given me "for any problems" and made an appointment. Not wanting to subject me to braces again so soon, he put a rubber band around the front two teeth to pull them back together. Since the teeth had been undergoing so much movement in recent months, they closed right back up, but it created gaps on either side. 

By June, exasperated, I asked whether it would make more sense to put braces back on. A full records appointment followed. At the consultation a few weeks later, the ortho explained that the treatment needed to straighten my teeth was much more complicated than the dentist had envisioned. In fact, the ortho said, when the dentist realized he was leaving town, he asked this ortho to finish my treatment. But when the ortho looked at the dentist's records, he declined, saying there was too much work involved that the dentist had not anticipated. (I can only assume this is when the dentist chose to tell me things were fine, remove my braces and get out of town.)

That September, I began wearing a splint on my top teeth 24/7 (even when eating) to relax my bite before the ortho would put braces on. On Dec. 31, 1990 (no, I didn't have much of a New Year's Eve celebration), metal brackets went on every tooth in my mouth. When I bit off two bottom molar brackets a few months later, they were replaced by bands. Along the way, three rubber bands between the arches came and went, along with various elastic and wire power chains. 

In August 1992, the top braces were removed. The ortho kept the bottom braces on until June 1993 trying to rotate a stubborn canine. When the last of the braces were removed, the teeth were basically where they needed to be, and the retainer wear that followed has kept everything pretty much as it should be. Unfortunately, what should have been two go-rounds in braces had a wasted middle experience; wasted in terms of time, money and discomfort. 

Ironically, I read several years later that the dentist who botched my case had died in a skiing accident.

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