Sidebar: Brace yourself

Granted, this blog was created to chronicle my mid-life transition from deadline driven journalist to wildly successful author. But we all know work life and personal life are intricately linked, so I’ve been yearning to write a blog about the thing that has been consuming most of my time for the past two weeks. And it’s not the book — it’s my mouthful of braces.

Friends have assured me that I can write whatever I like in my own blog, so play along for a tale of how a 50something woman came to be in the position of accommodating way more dental appliances than she dreamed possible, while simultaneously renewing her admiration of the resiliency of children (after all, they do this all the time, right?)

A couple of years ago, my wonderful and trusted dentist began mentioning that Invisalign braces might be a good idea for my mildly crooked teeth. They are popular these days for adults because they involve clear trays you swap out every couple weeks, thus straightening your teeth invisibly. They take molds of your current teeth and do a computer generated plan of where you want the teeth to be, and then a set of trays is individually created for you. Each tray moves the teeth a bit closer to where they need to be.

A few months ago, knowing my dental insurance will end in a year, I finally asked my dentist about how much it would cost and how long it’d take. The figures: $4,500 and 9-10 months.

Pretty steep, but my insurance would kick in for about 20% and I began to seriously consider the idea. A friend suggested I get a second opinion, so I visited a local specialist who had nothing to gain, meaning he doesn’t install Invisalign and he doesn’t install the alternative — metal braces. He was very smart, very informative and pretty depressing, despite his charming manner and ebullient spirits. Without taking X-rays, he knew more about my mouth than I did. (“It’s my job,” he said, when I asked him how he knew so much.) He talked about the chewing surfaces of my teeth, the “roller coaster effect” on my lower left teeth, the incorrect angles of my front teeth (both upper and lower) and the extreme narrowness of my palate. At one point, in the nicest way possible, he said “You underestimate the mess you’ve got going on in your mouth.”


I’ve always paid attention to my teeth, I suppose because I’ve needed lots of crowns over the years, as well as bite guards for grinding. I’ve never particularly worried about them; just thought they were holding up fine and were pretty average. No gum problems, thank goodness, but I’m pretty conscientious about care. I knew my teeth were way too tight ’cause I have such trouble flossing. And I knew my mouth was small, because in 6th grade I had 4 permanent teeth pulled. My dentist at the time did not recommend ortho work, saying he thought they’d close in just fine naturally. My older sister was undergoing expensive ortho work, so my folks were delighted to hear the news on daughter #2.

So the teeth filled the gaps, but not in quite the orderly fashion they should have. My specialist guy (who hinted that breaking the jaw and opening my palate up an inch is the only thing that’d REALLY help my mouth), said he thought metal braces would be much more effective for what I needed done in my mouth. He based that on the fact that my teeth need to be adjusted up and down, and on several planes, not just straightened. He estimated two years about maybe $6,000, but he didn’t do the work himself, so could’t be exact.

He gave me the name of the dentist who put metal braces on both his kids, which I figured was a good recommendation. This guy could also do Invisalign, so I wanted to ask him which he recommended for me. (Because my regular dentist only does Invisalign, I didn’t think she could be completely unbiased about my needs.)

So off I go, now thoroughly annoyed with the research process I thought was going to be simple. At the new guy’s office, they took (FREE) X-rays and a head scan, explained the process using pictures of my mouth, totaled the cost, figured in insurance and sent me out the door, free to make up my mind — which I really appreciated. The orthodontist told me that day it was easy to see what needed to be done in my mouth — and that while Invisalign would be better than doing nothing, metal braces were the way to go. He drew arrows in the photos to indicate the angles my teeth should be going vs. where they are now, and explained how the pressure pushing my jaw backward might actually be contributing to my migraines. My profile might actually change a small amount too, since my front teeth need to angle outward a bit, instead of going straight down.

Good grief! Who knew all this stuff? Certainly not me, having made my last visit to an orthodontist in grade school.

Faced with all this info, I did what any self-respecting, aging Boomer would do: I called my Mom. It was one of those rare but essential “What do you think I should do?” conversations.

When Mom realized that the $6,700 price tag was a big part of my worry, she sealed her nomination for Best Mother on Planet by offering to help me with the cost, graciously pointing out that I’d probably needed them at age 11. (Yes, she’s the BEST and I know it.)

I called the dentist the next Monday and said I’d decided to opt for metal braces — and have regretted it every moment since. I hated the metal spacers that were installed because there wasn’t enough room for plastic spacers. I hated the plastic spacers because a sharp edge on one shredded my tongue and made it hurt to even talk, much less eat. I hated that while most people have spacers for 3 days, I needed them for two weeks. And I hate the braces most of all (they went on 5 days ago) because it feels impossible for my mouth to make room for — what? — 50% MORE junk in there besides the teeth everyone said I didn’t have room for in the first place? Yikes.

I feel betrayed. Such a rosy picture they painted for me at the orthodontist. Very little talk of the particulars of the downside. Naturally. But why did I think they would do otherwise? No one would sign up if they knew.

Actually, things have improved every day and I’m astonished to find I can occasionally think of something besides the bulldozer now residing in my mouth. At first I couldn’t get my lips to even close around the hardware; my first drink from a bottle of water resulted in dribbling. Relearning to chew and drink is both humiliating and annoying, so if you don’t quickly learn to laugh about it, you’re doomed. Fortunately, after a few days under a very black cloud, behaving like a thwarted diva, I have begun to find the humor in my situation. I remind myself that I chose this, and though I may have days where I want to spit out the braces, my long-term goal is a worthwhile one.

Ironically, I adore the staff at the dentist’s office. I trust them and depend on them and think they have amazing expertise. It’s certainly not their fault I am a big baby and want to kick and scream and have a temper tantrum because my mouth hurts and I’m completely frustrated at my helplessness.

But hey! Just think. If I ever lose it and bite one of them in a fit of infantile anger, the impression of my teeth will be oh-so-symmetrical!


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4 Responses to “Sidebar: Brace yourself”

  1. Betty Says:

    Anne, I wore metal braces in my small mouth for a little over 2 years in my 40s (clear on top; silver on bottom), and I empathize with what you’re going through. I had an overbite and had been grinding my teeth for years. I finally gave in to my dentist’s advice to see an orthodontist. Ibuprofen helped sooth the discomfort that came and went, and I only had one major setback. With about 9 months to go with the braces, the ortho put metal jackets around my two back jaw teeth. The pain was so intense, his assistant had to meet me at the office on a weekend to remove them. He went with a “Plan B” for those 2 back teeth, and I sailed through to the finish line on time. Nothing feels as good as sliding your tongue over your slick teeth again, and my jaw and teeth have since lined up perfectly, resulting in a permanent smile on my face instead of the frown once caused by my overbite. I can say, in my case, the 2 years of wearing braces was well worth the outcome. Hang in there, Anne!

  2. Mike Atwater, PhD Says:

    Thank you for taking the plunge for the rest of us and helping us with your reporting and your sense of humor. With ‘baited breath’ I look forward to your next installment to hear how the tooth wars is going, bygum.

  3. Sari Crossman Says:

    I just found your blog tonight. I’m 54 years old and will be getting braces at the end of October. I am absolutely dreading the entire process. My orthodontist says I will need to wear them for two years. So, I assume that you survived your time in braces. Was it worth it? I hope so.

    • annerodgers Says:

      I wish I could be encouraging. My 18 months in braces was all kinds of miserable. I survived, but it was expensive and I was very unhappy the whole time. They were trying to “open up” my bite because all my teeth were sort of turning inward. “Collapsing” they called it, though I think that’s too dramatic a term. All my friends would say “Why are you getting braces?” It didn’t look like I needed them. But I had never had a good bite; no good chewing surfaces. And I have had horrible migraines & they thought this might help. It likely did, but still … such a miserable time. I hurt constantly.
      Other adults have had MUCH easier experiences than me. I certainly hope you do. What is the problem your orthodontist is trying to fix?
      Knowing what I know now, I would never have braces for cosmetic reasons. Not that I was considering that … 😉

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