by Chris from the Midwest, ArchWired Reader
“This will be worth it in the end” has become my mantra these last 10 months. I say it or at least think, probably a couple times in a typical day. What’s “it”? you ask. Well, “it” is a mouthful of hardware that is slowly moving my smile toward perfection.
Of course it’s not like I was forced into this by any sinister force. It was totally self-inflicted. Since I passed my traumatic teens, where I really was “afraid” of the social consequences of a mouth full of metal, I realized honestly that I never was happy with my smile. And it wasn’t getting any better with age. Teeth do continue to move around, and mine were headed north and south – especially the lowers. As my son’s reached their teenage years, I noticed that braces on kids were quite common. Much more so than when I was younger. In fact, around their school, not having them probably carried more “stigma” than having them. And of course we couldn’t deprive them – braces were highly recommended by their regular dentist. They have been “doing their time”, with mom right along side in the regular treks to the orthodontist. They are two years apart in age, and will have about a year overlap in braces, so we’ll be at this a LONG time.
Through this course I noticed many not-so-young folks not just sitting in the waiting room chauffeuring their rug-rats, but going through treatment themselves. They didn’t seem to be suffering from terminal embarrassment. This planted the seed. Hmm….maybe I really should consider fixing my smile too. And going through this with the kids would be a valuable bonding experience, wouldn’t it? And now that I think about it, my husband’s teeth could really use a “tune up” as well. I didn’t think he’d have any macho “real men don’t wear braces” resistance, but I sure didn’t have a clue how I’d convince him that it was something he absolutely needed to do.
One night out away from the kids I said “You know, I’m really not happy with how crooked my teeth are getting. What would you think if I wanted to go into braces”, not really knowing what I’d get back. First it was “Really?, I think you have a great smile” Nice, but typical. Then “Let me see… Well, maybe they do look a little crowded. You won’t believe this, but I’ve been thinking the same thing since the boys started with their braces. I just could never work up the nerve to say anything – thought you’d laugh!, and I’m really not sure I want to be dealing with a mouth full of metal at work”. Turns out we were both really much more apprehensive about what others would think than actually going through the treatment.
We pretty much knew what to expect from the kids experience. We agreed that we’d both at least have initial consultations then decide what to do. I made the appointment for both at the same time – we’d be in this together all the way if I had anything to say about it. The day came. Turns out we were the talk of the office. Of course we got all kinds of support. The verdict for both of us was surprisingly similar – no major problems, but in addition to the obvious possible cosmetic corrections there were a few “behind the scenes” problems that needed work for general bite improvement and mouth health.
After doing a little web research and talking to a few people this seems pretty common. Our orthodontist said probably 75% of adults could benefit from braces. Sounds like a marketing pitch for the orthodontists of America, but maybe true. Now that I’m into braces, I have noticed more people who could probably use them. So it would be 18-24 months in fixed braces, then retainers “forever” for both of us. “The retainers forever” part surprised me, but Dr. Mitchell said that adult teeth, having been in the “wrong” place for a long time, tend to want to go back where they came from. But he said that only very part time wear would be necessary, so maybe I can live with this.
After the visit, the discussion at home was “Hmm… well what do you think”, “I dunno, seems like a long time, and can we really afford this?” “What do you suppose our families and friends will think?”. I mulled it over for a few weeks, got through the holiday rush, then finally decided that one of my New Year’s resolutions would be to start the treatment. I’m not one to make a long list of resolutions, and I have been known to “forget” a few, but I figured if I put this as the only one on the list, I might just follow through. My husband was even less committal. After our initial discussion, he sort of just ignored the subject.
The first week in January, I said, “Well, I’m making an appointment with Dr Mitchell for him to do records and start my treatment, do you want me to make yours as well?” – fully expecting that he’d choose to put it off. He surprised me yet again when he said, “OK, if you’ve got the courage to start this, I suppose I can jump in too”. We finally told our kids what we were up to. First it was rolled eyes and “You’re joking, right? I can’t imagine the grief our friends will give us”. Joint appoints didn’t work out, but we did end up with “braces on” days within a week of one another.
The kids started to come around. Sympathy? Maybe, but more like payback – “now you’ll know what you’ve put us through”. They warned that the spacers used to make room for band installation were absolutely awful – and they weren’t kidding. Felt like meat stuck permanently between my molars, and like my jaws were coming apart. I was really, really nervous on hardware installation day, but at this point there was no backing out. Turned out to be less of a problem than I expected.
he biggest issue at first, and probably ongoing, was the “fullness” feeling in my mouth the brackets cause. I went with ceramic brackets on top (metal on bottom) to keep the visual impact of my wired mouth to a minimum, but Dr. Mitchell said they were a little thicker than metal. Maybe this feeling would be less with metal all around. I don’t know. I still am very conscious of my braces when I talk – having to force my top lip to slide over them, and seem to be prone to drooling if I’m not careful. Dare I say fish lips? Or maybe monkey mouth? Pretty gross, but that’s what I think it feels / looks like sometimes.
I’ve noticed now that you can often spot other people in braces because of this “full” look, or their consciousness of them when talking. I never noticed this until I had mine put on and experienced it myself. If I was starting again (heaven forbid!), I might go with full metal ‘cause the ceramics really aren’t invisible. Of course I did appreciate having less of an “initial shock” with the ceramics. The pain has been much less that I expected. Advil the day after adjustments seems to take care of any mouth twinges I’m feeling. I think I’ve had more headaches than tooth pain.
And how is my husband doing? I started first, so he got a good look at my hardware before he had his put on. I had to give him a close up view – wanted to touch them, ask a thousand obvious questions “do they bother you?” “any pain with getting them on?”, “do you think kissing will be a problem?” and on and on. Things he would never ask the kids – or anyone else for that matter. Touch them?, you say. Yeah, I thought it was a little weird, but I don’t know how else you might get and idea of what they felt like. I obliged. And then there was the $64,000. question from me – “Well, what do you think?” One of those “honey, do you think I’m getting fat” questions, I suppose. Response was “Hey, I think they make you look cuter, and actually younger” Right answer. Though I will admit that looking in the mirror alone after coming back home from the fateful appointment I had this “what have I gotten myself into” feeling – almost to tears.
It was his turn the next week. I was off work so went with him. Felt almost like I did with my kids installations. They invited me back during the process to watch. The assistants really did get a kick out of our going through orthodontia together. One of them even said she was trying to convince her fiancé to get them. Guess she had worn them as a kid, and was really into perfect smiles. I suppose that’s why she became an orthodontic assistant. I have noticed that all the assistants do have perfect teeth. I wonder if it’s a job requirement. I’d bet that most, if not all, have worn braces – though I’ve never asked.
Anyway, she asked if we would act as a “reference” for her. Hmm… I’m wasn’t sure I wanted to start this, and my husband certainly couldn’t comment with the lip-spreaders in, but I did say OK, and he did nod back, so I think he’s OK with it too. Forgot to ask for a commission, or at least a discount, if we convinced him to come to Dr. Mitchell. Thought about pictures of the event for the family album, but didn’t really think he’d appreciate. We’d be having plenty of “here’s mom and dad in braces” pictures I figured. He finished in about the same 2 hours it took for my installation – also ceramics and metal. I think the first big smile in the mirror was a shock for him too. We marched out of the office the only metal mouthed married couple I know. In spite of all his questions, he still said “you know, these things REALLY feel weird – like I have rocks on my teeth”. I guess nothing can really prepare you for the actual feeling of the hardware in your own mouth.
We adventurously headed out to lunch. Of course I knew what to expect with eating, but he didn’t. It’s this “Well, I finished eating, and I think I swallowed everything, so why do I feel that my mouth is still full of food” feeling. Most times it’s not quite that bad, but close. He’d collected his handy portable toothbrush at the orthodontist, and I had mine in my purse, so we headed off for a quick clean up. It certainly has become a ritual now. Did I tell him that he looked “cute and younger” in his shiny new braces? Nope, but did say that his braces were really hardly noticeable. I think that’s what he really wanted to hear. And they actually are. He doesn’t have a big smile, so unless you really look at his mouth, they aren’t visible. He seems to have adjusted to talking better than me – doesn’t have the top lip hang up problem. We both went through the standard raw cheeks and lips adjustment – with wax to help, but he had seen my problems with this go away in a week, and his did as well. I had never heard, but permanently dry, chapped lips also seem to go with the braces territory. My husband doesn’t complain, but I sure notice it. Now we’re into the routine of monthly adjustments all around.
I now have another trite saying – “the family that braces together, stays together.” I don’t know of another family that cleans their teeth as much as we do. There’s a line at the bathrooms after dinner. And we all can sympathize after adjustments. I have a menu of “soft” meals that we all can tolerate. My oldest will be out of his braces in a couple months. We’ll celebrate for sure. Wonder if he’ll feel like an outsider then. Or more likely he’ll just gloat.
So have we been kidded unmercifully? Not at all. We get it occasionally at family gatherings “Don’t you all smile, the reflection off your tinsel teeth will ruin the picture”. It’s mostly been curiosity and support “Oh, I’ve thought of getting braces myself, do they bother you?” I have a couple of girlfriends who have gone through braces as adults, so have some sympathetic ears to bend, but I don’t think there’s anything like going through this with someone as close as a spouse. I actually think I like his braced face look – and I do think they make him look younger – though I wouldn’t say it to his face. He still thinks I’m cute in them.
I do feel a little strange when we’re all dressed up headed for a night out. I’ve more than once looked in the mirror and said “are we headed for the prom, or what?” It’s become sort of running joke for us. I have changed my lipstick color to one that I think “tones down” the braces visibility. At least it’s one that doesn’t call additional attention to my mouth. No bright glossy reds for me right now. And, no I’m not going for the hot pink ligature bands that I’ve seen on kids. Hmm…am I being just too vain, or self-conscious? Wonder how my husband would look in hot pink bands? At first we took gingerly to kissing – not wanting to do any damage the other’s mouth, and of course we’d remembered the old teenage image / joke of locking braces. The first mutually braced kiss…as I recall…“Can you feel my braces?”, “Not really, – what I do feel, though, is MY braces – take it easy! Can you feel mine?” “Well, just when you have your mouth open, silly”. “Exploring” each other’s braces was something we got into early on. A little kinky I suppose, but hey, we are sharing this experience, and for us this turned out to be an interesting way to do it.
There are these little hooks on some brackets used to install elastics, so I suppose true lip lock would be possible if you got things together in just the right way. But through many months of practice and some interesting “experiments”, we’ve had no incidents. Sometimes a little game develops – definitely a unique experience. OK, enough of this – we’ve certainly never shared THESE experiences with the kids. “Aren’t you a little too old for this stuff?” you ask. Well… no. Hey, if I’m going to look like a kid, I might as well act like one, right? Part of the spice of life I think.
Right now I’m into top-to-bottom elastics to move things around my arch and a chain to close some gaps that have opened as my teeth have shifted. Probably more irritation and pain than I’ve had before. But I’m in this to completion now. We’re both, hopefully, approaching the halfway point – not yet counting days or even months, but thinking that it would be OK if this was over. I think the worst is the drag of serious clean up after every meal, or snack, and not being able to eat some “treasured” treats – like corn on the cob, and caramel apples. You don’t know how much you enjoy them ‘til you can’t partake. And now that we’re coming to our first holiday season in braces, I’m sure there are other traditional treats …hmm.. mom’s homemade candy come to mind…that we’ll be missing. Oh well, I suppose missing the traditional holiday weight gain won’t be a bad thing.
Would I recommend this to my friends? Sure! In spite of the irritations, I really don’t mind having braces at all – especially when I know the result will be something I really want – and can keep for life (well, at least if I follows the doctors orders in “retainers forever”, I suppose). And doing it as a family does have some benefits – shared experience, instant available support, and last, but not least – a family discount from your friendly family orthodontist – at least that’s what we were able to negotiate. Still, for what we’re committed to in mouth hardware, we could almost have a new car or kitchen. Oh well, this is more important to us right now – and something you (hopefully!) only do once.
Whether kids are part of the picture or not, and if there is a need, I would recommend sharing with a spouse or significant other. If you’re seriously considering braces, then at least doing dual check ups is probably worth it. Given the number of people who are claimed to need braces, “twin treatment” is probably a good possibility. Seems like more women than men go into braces as adults, but I see no reason this should be. Men are generally more concerned about their appearance than in times past, aren’t they? – the ongoing “youth movement” and all. But maybe still more difficult to convince a husband to take the plunge. Maybe I was just lucky to catch my husband at a “sensitive” moment – don’t know. Of course some wives might be OK with braces on themselves, but just might not want to see their husbands with a mouth full of metal, or vice versa.
For me, having my hubby willing to step up got me moving on something I really wanted to do. I think it really does make it easier for both partners to make the commitment, get over the nervousness of looking “different”, and deal with the irritations that just are part of wearing braces. And even have some fun with it all. It sure has worked just fine for us.