Braces off!

It’s entirely fitting that the dismantling of the massive and extended construction job in my mouth was long and arduous. The tightly secured metal bands had to be wrenched from my back eight molars, the ceramic brackets on the rest of the teeth had to be shattered (their word, not mine) and the residue of glue required grinding. Yes. Grinding.

If you’re wincing at the description, let me assure you I was doing my own wincing and worse during the almost 2-hour removal appointment. For some reason, I hadn’t anticipated such a brutal unveiling. But I shouldn’t be surprised. The nastiness of shedding your metal shackles is just one more detail no one mentions when you start down the merry path of Braces Land.

My first clue that removal would be painful was when the dental assistant offhandedly informed me last week that if they loosened one of my crowns during the process, not to worry, because they would re-glue it.

What?? Crown?? Loosened? Really??

Maybe it’s just me, but I considered this an extremely alarming thing to hear. However, I willed my face to remain impassive. For some reason, I don’t like to appear weak in the dental chair, which is probably due to some ancient imperative about being strong in the face of your mortal enemies.

“Could you tell me a little bit about the removal process?” I calmly asked. Which is when I heard about how the ceramic brackets must be broken off your teeth; and as you might guess, the process makes it sound like your teeth are breaking. “Don’t worry; it’s just the ceramic shattering,” is your cheery assurance.

Pulling the 360-degree metal bands off my back molars was easier on my crowns than my natural teeth. First time I’ve been glad for the number of crowns I have. After a couple of the more stubborn ones, I just waved a hand at the girl to stop for a moment so I could collect myself and be out of pain long enough to let her tackle the next one. She frequently let me go brush my teeth and rinse during the process, which was a psychological relief as well as a physical one. Your teeth feel icky and your breath is bad immediately after the removal.

Finally came the polishing process, which made my teeth feel slick and normal again. Well, not normal. Because my teeth were beginning to slightly collapse inward, the orthodontist “opened up” my bite. So my front teeth now push outward a bit farther than before I got braces. Whenever I close my lips over my teeth now, the teeth feel big and fat because of their new angle.

My mouth has been out of bondage less than 48 hours, so my teeth are still sore. Weeks ago, I scheduled a celebratory caramel apple-eating date with two girlfriends today, but truth be told, I’m not sure my front teeth are ready for the festivities. Biting into an apple makes me feel like wincing, and I believe I’ve reached my quota of wincing this week.

So was the whole thing worth it?

Many people said once I ran my tongue over my smooth, straight teeth I would declare the process worthwhile and heave a sigh of satisfaction.

That hasn’t happened yet. Monday I go in for my retainers and the contouring process. (Did you know contouring is the polite word for grinding? Now you do.) I’m willing to be “contoured” because I can already feel high spots and unevenness developing in my bite, as things begin to settle in this post-braces phase.

As for the retainers, I was previously told they needed to be worn at night, but on Braces-Off Day I was informed that for the next six critical months I should wear them at all times except while eating. I guess one’s teeth are determined to head straight back to their incorrect, unhealthy, ingrained positions. Lovely genetic encoding we humans are subject to, what?

I don’t meant to sound so ungrateful. Of course I’m glad to be braces free. Ecstatic in fact. Brushing and flossing is now a genuine pleasure, instead of a source of disgust and dismay. And I’m delighted to have shaved six weeks off my projected estimate of 18 months in braces. I was wretchedly obsessive about wearing my bands and always chose the earliest date for each appointment, hoping to hurry my progress. It paid off. Having a natural smile at Christmas is worth a LOT to me.

But is all forgiven? Am I like a mother cuddling her newborn while blocking out the birth process?

Nope. Maybe in a week or a month. Not today.

From various things that dental assistants have said along the way, I have gathered that my mouth was a particular challenge. Most recently, while attaching some wire or another, one commented, “Oh, you’ve even got hooks on your back molars. My goodness, we’ve thrown everything at you! You’re having the full orthodontic experience!”

Such asides, euphemistic as they are, let me know my path to dental conformity has been thornier than some. Perhaps, my jaded outlook is partially due to that fact.

But mostly I just feel deceived. I can’t think of another process that I went into with such anticipation and dedication, where I was so completely blindsided by the experience’s negative aspects.

Disclosure, people. Yes, you’ll lose a few patients if you tell the truth. But dentists have got to do a better job of warning adults what they’re getting into when they say yes to braces.

And since I’m pretty sure they won’t — consider this me just doing my part.

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2 Responses to “Braces off!”

  1. Mike Atwater Says:

    Anne,
    What a story and thank you for the warning. Happy upcoming holidays to you and yours.

  2. Ken Steinhoff Says:

    I had braces when I was a kid and still remember the pain. I don’t follow directions like you do, so I suspect I wore my retainer all of about two days.

    A few years back, when I changed dentists, he recommended that I consider braces. “You’re gonna have to have somebody else help you buy your boat,” I told him. “I don’t have enough years left to make me go through that again.”

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