Brace Yourself

Here’s smiling at you, kid…

A trio of smartly-dressed citizen gathers around a table. In the background is some chic destination, like a Parisian street or a nightclub in Honolulu. The woman wears a close-fitting black sundress, flashing an impossibly perfect set of pearly whites, magnified by her red lipstick. Two admiring men, gazing at the rare jewel this woman seems to be, can’t help but be charmed by her dazzling smile. And why not? She spent a fortune on it, but they’ll never know. Why? She’s got those invisible braces slipping her smile into the correct alignment. That secret’s safe with her, until the time arrive when she disrobes her mouth in a discreet location, like the powder room.

Now, who wouldn’t be tempted to enroll one’s self in that kind of life? Men charging after you because your teeth gleam in a straight line?

Alas, my life teeth held no such promise, or me, either. Only misaligned teeth that kept chipping away, unable to keep themselves lined up as the way nature intended them to be.

This sad reality faced me as I went to the dentist for the upteenth time to have my front top two teeth bonded. My dentist shook his head. “This is going to keep happening unless you get those braces I keep recommending. Your insurance isn’t covering the bill anymore, either, you realize.”

Why is it the dentist always chides you when your mouth is propped open with some sort of metal gizmo that inhibits speech, leaving you gasping for air? “Ah…oh…at.” I manage to phonate.

Dentist lets out a sign as he builds up the front two teeth. “You know, Invisilign is running a special this month. You’ll save $1000 if you choose to get their retainers. They’re really effective. Ad you won’t have to worry about those train tracks like kids wear.

Himm, those.

God gave me buck teeth. Serious buck teeth. My lips wouldn’t close and my smiles usually looked kind of spooky, almost like a Halloween pumpkin. Or a beaver.

So at age 10, my parents marched me off to Dr. Broad, the town dentist. His father, the elder Dr. Broad, was known for his medieval torture practices. I happened to go to him when I was a kid, only because my grandmother (who wore dentures) went to him since his graduation from dental school. The man simply didn’t believe in novocaine, or gas, or clinging to the ceiling after he ripped out a root, tooth or jaw. I’d rather submit myself to the wrath of a starving grizzly bear than enter the antiseptic-scented lobby of his practice.

Mercifully, Dr. Broad the Orthodontist inherited nothing of his father’s traits. He was a kind, gentle, friendly man who kids worshipped. The walls of his office and examination rooms were lined with pictures kids drew of him, of their teeth, butterflies, houses…anything the 4th grade art class assigned. And he was funny. The first thing he did was make you laugh, setting a patient instantly at ease. He always made you feel good about yourself and how well your teeth were coming along. So by the time I was twelve, my teeth stood straight, easily hiding behind the curtain of my lips.

As time went by, the damage Dr. Broad the Elder inflicted on my teeth began to throw off his orthodontist son’s work. I developed a cyst in my jaw from a pulled tooth whose socket wasn’t properly cleaned. His fillings degraded in several teeth, requiring more teeth pulled and root canal. By the time I was in my 30s, I had two bridges, one gold tooth and two crowns. With all that negative activity, my teeth drifted to and fro. By the time I was in my 50s, my teeth were a sorry testament to what they’d been in my younger years.

I love my present dentist. He’s really great. He’s incredibly friendly, the sort that asks about my son every time I go in (he’s a former patient). Asks to see pictures. Always asks how I’m doing and not in a cursory way. So when he suggested the retainers, I knew it was in my best interest. So I signed up for them, especially knowing it wouldn’t involve metal.

The first day I slipped them in felt exactly the same as being forced to wear an underwire bra two sizes two small (ladies, you know what this is like). Not exactly painful, but, my god, I felt as if the life was being squeezed out of my smile. My first attempt to remove the retainers almost took my teeth along with it (thus almost ending my need for them).

My ability to speak clearly disappeared with it. My boss calls to ask me a simple question. “Yesh, whee shhhuld,” I reply, my tongue sticking on the retainer like glue. I slur and lisp, sounding almost like a drunk on the verge of oblivion.

Adding to my woes, I can’t reach for a casual cup of tea. In fact, the only thing I could have when I’m wearing them is water. They’re locked into my mouth for 22 hours a day. After each meal, I have to floss and brush. So for breakfast I zoom through my cereal. A cup of coffee that used to take 15-20 minutes to sip as I read my morning paper must now be guzzled in 5-7 minutes. My throat burns but at least I’ve ingested it. If ever I wanted to lose weight (who doesn’t?), I found the perfect diet. Try to spend 22 hours of your day not thinking about the two hours total you’re allowed to eat.

Yesterday. I rebelled. Since I have to change the retainers every two weeks, I saw no harm in grabbing a cup of iced coffee to sip while I drove around doing errands. The retainers didn’t stain, and I dutifully ringed them and my teeth after I got home.

These things will be part of my life for the next 18 months. It’s a long time to think about it. Once it’s over, I’ll be joining that glamorous smile club, flirting with an Adonis over a glass of Syrah, maybe on the Azure Coast, whiling the hours away while flashing my brand-new dazzling smile.

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