Posts Tagged ‘orthodontics’

A matter of metal

May 31, 2012

In the long, sad slog that has been my “adult braces experience,” today marks a turning point: It’s the last day I am required to wear my retainers full-time. My glee is tempered by the knowledge that I am not free to burn or flush said retainers — instead I’ve been advised to wear them nightly for the rest of my life.

I refuse to think about that right this minute. Instead, I am concentrating on how great it’s going to be to cruise through the days with no metal in my mouth — something I haven’t done since July 27, 2010, not that anyone’s keeping track. No more awkward removal of top and bottom appliances just to accept a fellow cyclist’s offer of an energy gel. No more constant refusal of snacks (which just aren’t worth the dental annoyance). No more incessant exploration of the alien metal in my mouth with a constantly worried tongue.

Come to think of it, I bet my number of migraines drops once I get to remove this perpetual source of irritation from my daylight hours.

In preparation for tomorrow’s unveiling, I have been practicing with the whole naked teeth idea for a few hours at a time. I went snorkeling this week, and opted to avoid having snorkel mouthpiece meet dental apparatus. And a couple of parties have seen me sans retainers as well.

I also chose not to wear them to my first gym workout since, um … December. I thought it would be hard enough getting back into the swing of weight lifting without that annoyance.

As to the reason for my long absence from the gym, let me hasten to explain. Strictly speaking, it was not my fault. (So few things are, I’ve discovered.)

My trainer, you see, opted to pursue different opportunities. (How dare he, right?) Anyway, his decision, coupled with a severe lack of funds on my part, led an extended couch potato session. It’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently in that situation.

In summary, June will see me back at the gym on a regular basis sporting a metal-less mouth that will undoubtedly be more inclined toward smiling. I’m betting the changes will ensure a great summer, one in which I finish the book.

Count on it!


Braces off!

December 8, 2011

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.

Book? What book?

July 28, 2011

Yes, I realize it’s been some time since I blogged. Believe me, if I had amazing progress to report, I would have, you know, reported it.

Instead it’s been an unsettling, unproductive, nay depressing 4 weeks. Not to put too fine a point on it.

However! In the good news column: I finally got on the phone earlier this week and set up interviews for the chapter on 30 year olds. You just know the 30something ladies are going to have fascinating stories about desire and how the process of having a family figures into things. I feel eager to reengage with the book — and that’s a huge relief after my month of inertia.

Plus, I have a meeting with my book partner this Sunday, where I have pledged to have a revamped book proposal ready to show her. With Mo’s sign-off, I’ll send it to an agent (yes!) in New York who expressed interest in reading a full proposal.

This agent thing is quite an exciting little side story, actually.

I found this (well-known!) agent’s bio in a post about ThrillerFest, a summertime New York event which had an agent fest component. I showed it to Mo and she agreed the woman was a great fit with our book and suggested we consider flying up just to meet her. Because of the cost involved, I emailed the agent to ask if she was going to be appearing at any events closer to Florida or ones that were more up our alley than a gathering of thriller writers. (Not that our book won’t be thrilling, of course.) In that email to the agent, I included 3 or 4 sentences sketching the premise of our book.

Well, the agent emailed back quickly to say we shouldn’t make the trip solely to meet her, but that she’s interested in taking a look at our proposal online!

Awesome, yes? Very exciting.

Unfortunately my proposal needed massive revising and all this occurred just three days before my trip to Texas for Mom’s birthday, girls’ group gathering and a special memorial event I’d been planning for a while. Also, it happened about two hours before I got the phone call letting me know my friend Clarence was in the hospital with a stroke.

And that’s pretty much when things went off the track.

Dealing with my friend’s unexpected death was truly bad enough, but layered on top was Dental Nightmare No. 718: the dreaded cross-angled rubber band configuration the dentist delayed on my previous visit. At least I was prepared with a few days worth of pain reliever prescribed by my migraine doctor. (Guess what he ordered? Oxycodone. Yikes!)

Nevertheless, the pain was still so bad from the sharp hooks (which serve to “catch” the rubber bands), that I was pretty much unable to function for five days. By function I mean I couldn’t eat, couldn’t talk, couldn’t swallow — because all those movements require you to move your tongue, and each time I did that, it felt like a wasp was stinging my tongue. Truly awful. I finally returned to the dentist for an emergency visit, told the sweet young assistant on duty that something was terribly amiss, no one could possibly intend for me to be in this much pain and to please HELP ME.

She carefully studied my situation, restored the offending hooks to their neutral position and instead pulled out a different hook from the opposite side of the tooth, and then angled it downward in such a way that it didn’t pierce my tongue with each movement. I quit taking the oxycodone the next day (which had not alleviated the pain anyway) and began to feel like life was worth living again.

And those cross-bands on the back teeth weren’t the only bad news; I was assigned bands on my front teeth as well, encompassing two teeth on the top and two on the bottom on each side of my mouth. The rubber bands I wore at night on these teeth were so unyielding that I was almost unable to open my mouth while wearing them. Daytime bands were lax enough to allow speech. For this I assume I was to be grateful.

For anyone who’s counting (I was!), this all meant that a total of 12 of my teeth were constantly being adjusted by rubber bands for an interminable 4 weeks. I was not a happy camper.

Fortunately, that particular era of torture ended yesterday; I am now back to two fairly standard rubber bands in a new configuration. Even so, I feel marked by the previous miserable month, perhaps because I was simultaneously experiencing grief over my friend’s death. I feel like a soldier who’s too wrung out to offer any further resistance. My last impulse to fight has drained away. I can’t win against these braces and nothing I do seems to make it easier. I just want it over with.

From here, six months feels like a long time, ya’ll.

16 shots to the head

June 30, 2011

Every three months I get Botox treatments from my neurologist (a wicked smart man I greatly admire), in an effort to reduce the migraine headaches I’ve enjoyed since about age 40. The good news is that he’s down to using one vial instead of two for each session; the bad news is that means I still got 16 shots in my head today.

Actually, I’ve become fairly inured to the process, and as unpleasant as I find shots to be on any part of my anatomy, the stings and pricks of the needles on my neck and hairline don’t bother me much if I take a Xanax a bit prior to the procedure. That one little pill keeps my anxiety in check and relaxes me enough to not tense up with each warning of “a little stick.”

June brought only 3 migraines this year; a look at my records shows I had 6 in June last year, 7 in July. Many of last year’s migraines were multi-day affairs, returning for extended runs despite my desire to create “one pill only” experiences. This spring, almost all my headaches have been banned with one pill, so that’s another improvement.

Because of my progress, I start each month optimistic and happy, convinced I can get down to 1 migraine … or 2. Or none! But weaning my brain away from the ingrained patterns that lead to migraines is tricky business. Though I once experienced 4 weeks migraine-free, I haven’t been able to repeat that feat.

Maybe in July. Maybe this will be the month. Actually, it’s easy to see why June was not the month when I could post zero migraines. I was racing to finish my chapter on the 70 year olds in three weeks so I could go on vacation to Texas guilt-free. And I did, but it was a rushed process and I felt the stress. Then there were tense days in the hospital when my beloved friend Clarence Clemons suffered a stroke. And the sad trip back from Texas for his memorial service when the stroke proved fatal, despite our optimistic hopes after the first 3 days. An almost-immediate return to Texas followed, to complete a vacation somewhat altered (but still very special) to honor my mom and my niece on their shared birthday.

Since I frequently will get migraines from the altitude of airline trips or the jumbled schedules they cause, it’s no surprise that one of my June headaches was directly attributable to those factors.

But you know what? Three is NOT BAD, people! Not considering my history and not considering the stressors that cropped up in the past 30 days. So I’m declaring the month an improvement migraine-wise.

And though my habit is to start each month delighted with the clean slate and hoping to keep it that way, I’m having trouble with that tonight. That’s because tomorrow I have a dental appointment and I have this terror that they will try to install cross angle rubber bands again. The attempt was made last month, but my tongue shredded on the rubber band hooks in just hours, and the effort was abandoned. I’m praying my dentist has suffered amnesia since our last meeting, and no longer feels the need to recommend such a drastic procedure for my tortured mouth.

Please join me in this harmless prayer. My mouth thanks you.

Less talk; same amount of dental misery

February 17, 2011


I had this moment of revelation during my Christmas vacation in Texas. I was riding in the car with my sister, expounding on some minute detail of the misery I was enduring due to my braces, grateful beyond words for the chance to truly just whine to my hearts’ content, secure in the knowledge that my own flesh and blood would never get sick of my laments, would not stop loving me or even roll their eyes, because, you know — FAMILY.

But at length I glanced over and something in my extremely tactful sister’s face suddenly broke through my self-absorption. It wasn’t that she showed any disapproval or weariness or even lack of sympathy. But I somehow knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was taking unfair advantage of her love. Its effect on me was immediate: “Enough,” I told myself.

I am not a New Year’s resolution maker. But that very day, I vowed privately to talk less about my braces in 2011 than I did in 2010.

It has been remarkably easy to do. My secret has been to not bring it up myself; to wait for others to ask.

Guess what? Almost no one asks. Beloved friends and family apparently are able to live their lives and sleep soundly at night without daily updates of my dental travails.

Shocking as you may find this, it has its upside, which is that I am More Pleasant To Be Around. I mention this so that if you live nearby, and have been avoiding me during this unsavory episode of my life, you may now be assured the coast is clear. Feel free to call me for lunch, get togethers, etc. The danger is past.

I am able to proclaim this new and improved attitude with confidence because even time in my orthodontist’s chair today has not dampened my spirits. When I can bounce back this quickly, I know I’ve turned a corner. This morning, my former heavy-duty wires gave way to a new set of heavy duties, and I was shown how to use rubber bands for the first time. Yes. Apparently the metal bands have shifted my teeth enough that now it is time to begin moving my jaw. Which the rubber bands can purportedly do. (Don’t ask me how this happens; frankly, it seems impossible.)

So far there’s not much pain, though I was warned that headaches for a few days are common while the jaw adjusts to the new pressure. I don’t get regular headaches, I get migraines, so this isn’t good news. But I remain obstinately cheery. Perhaps because overall, my migraines are still VASTLY lower in number during the last 3 months than at any other time in the past 15 years. And I believe that part of my relief (not all) is due to the easing of pressure on my lower jaw, which the braces have facilitated.

That improvement is one big reason why it’s easier this year to refrain from mentioning my dental misery. Because truthfully, after more than 6 months in braces, I’m still aghast at how pervasive the discomfort in my mouth is, how chronic my problems with talking and eating. But when asked how I’m adjusting, “I hate them,” is enough. I leave it at that and don’t embellish.

(Nevertheless, grateful shout-out to Mom for pressing for details last week, even after I explained to her that I was trying to avoid the subject. “But I’m asking,” she said. Sweeeet! Ten minutes of guilt-free peevishness immediately followed.)

In other news, book progress has been slow this week, though I had a marvelous interview with a teen on Saturday. She was articulate, mature and loving; I was enchanted. The encounter reminded me that I’m beyond fortunate to be working on a book that engages my passion and imagination so completely.

Next time: More on the book, less on the braces. (Broke my own rule, didn’t I? Because you didn’t ask.)

Sex, sex, sex

October 24, 2010

Sorry for the sensationaistic headline, but, well, it’s true.

My whole life these days revolves around sex — and not because I’m having any personal experience, but that’s a different post.

The survey results about women’s sexual desire are in and we’ve gleaned some basic statistics. (For instance, we surveyed 27 teenagers, 11 women in their 90s, 771 married women and 95 widows.) But because the survey questions were open-ended and difficult to quantify, as of yet I don’t have the juicy stuff, i.e. how many women mentioned kissing as something that stimulates their desire or what percentage of women say rushing to intercourse is the one thing they wish their partner would NOT do.

I talked to my statistics guru about this today and and he explained the need to turn our qualitative answers into easy-to-read categories. It seems I need expanded spreadsheets for each of our 6 questions.

Soooo. I have more work to do.

But that’s fine! I’m totally energized for the task.

Mostly that’s because I had a highly motivating work session a week ago with Maureen Whelihan, my book partner. (If you knew her, you’d see why; she’s super upbeat.) She loved the intro I’d written, which was lovely to hear, but more importantly, we talked about voice in the book. Our conversation and her comments gave me confidence and in general freed me up creatively.

As a result, I’ve spent the week crafting a chapter tentatively titled “A Day With the Doctor,” where I set the stage for what Dr. Mo’s patients experience on a typical visit. (Hint: She asks her patients if they’re having sex, and if so, is it good?) Plus, this is the chapter where I have inserted all the surprising details about how minimal the training is for gynecologists when it comes to sexuality. A study of medical school curriculum in North America on sexual health showed that 61 percent of schools offer less than 10 hours (!!) of study in this subject.

What? Aren’t they supposed to be experts? No wonder physicians and specifically gynecologists are hesitant to bring up sexuality with their patients! Their education didn’t help them overcome whatever prejudices, hang-ups or fears about sexuality they carried into adulthood. Until the majority of doctors are able to have knowledgeable, non-judgmental conversations about sexual function with their patients, women will continue their frustrating quest for reliable, accessible information in this arena.

OK. Climbing down from my soap box now. Let’s see if I can pull myself back on topic.

Oh yes. Overall the book is progressing very well. Dr. Mo and I agreed to talk on the phone for update meetings every 2 weeks and we set our next work session 4 weeks out. This is very motivating for me and breaks tasks down into manageable bites. I definitely feel more organized and productive.

In related news, I’m approaching the 3-month marker for having the braces on, and I still despise them. I never forget they are there, never find anything to like about them and never fail to be annoyed by them. I am, however, resigned. I had two more bottom teeth banded last week and will be given the dreaded spacers soon to make room for more bands on my upper molars. I’m afraid to ask the dentist how many teeth will be banded before this nightmare ends. I reserve the right to take to my bed for a month if the number tops 10.

But maybe a women writing a book about female sexual desire shouldn’t use expressions such as “take to my bed for a month.”

Note to self: Be sensitive.

Progress on all fronts

September 21, 2010

As the dog days of this Florida summer draw to a close, I’m moving into a whole new phase of my book project. Yes! Data entry is finally complete and chapter writing begins.

But first: An interruption for dental news of the most exciting level. The turbos are already off!

It’s true. The nasty metallic spikes glued to the back of my two front teeth — which were installed to keep my top teeth from scraping the braces off my bottom teeth — are gone. I had thought the turbos and I would be intimate pals for 6 months, but a blessed reprieve occurred. Last week, on a quick trip to the dentist to reattach a loose bracket, Iris asked if I’d like to get the full adjustment the we had scheduled for the following week. A no brainer for me. Anything to speed up the process.

So when the dentist wheeled over, I of course wanted to know exactly when the turbos were coming off, because I had a big-time party to plan for the day those intruders were removed. I might have also indicated that I was not amused by said turbos’ unpleasant influence during the previous six weeks.

To answer my question, the dentist told Iris to check my back teeth with that tracing-paper-like stuff they use to get ink on your teeth — you know what I’m talking about, right? And she does the test on both sides and tells the dentist it looks like my teeth are OK and the turbos can come off. “You’re not just saying that so she’ll quit whining, are you?” asked my jovial dentist.

“Let me assure you,” I broke in, “I have not yet BEGUN to whine to the extent that I’m capable of when it comes to these turbos. I have saved that particular joy for my family and friends — and those intrepid readers who follow my blog.”

Despite my surly attitude, a closer examination by Mr. Dentist revealed that my front teeth have actually moved forward enough ALREADY to avoid the lower teeth, although little rubber “bumpers” were fastened to four bottom teeth for good measure. (The clearance is still too close for comfort; thus the friendly bumpers, which are actually kind of fun to moosh my top teeth against cause they’re bouncy.)

Needless to say, my life took an immediate turn for the better. Iris said the turbos would come off in 30 seconds, but that getting the glue off the back of my teeth would take much longer. She was right; that glue was more like cement. But so what? Turbos were off! I left the dentist elated.

The fretfulness I felt from the awkwardly placed spikes disappeared, the constant soreness of my tongue was gone in 24 hours and the necessity of disentangling food from the turbos after every single bite of food was over. Hallelujah indeed.

Thus, I was able to turn my attention to much more rewarding pursuits and wrapped up the data entry phase. Only a dozen surveys remain to be added to the spreadsheet, and they await missing information from my book partner, Mo. Meanwhile, I’ve gone back into my book proposal to update it with solid information about what we learned from the surveys, replacing the speculative statements I wrote before the numbers were in.

But I don’t want to spend too much time there. I’m itching to get into chapter writing, and interviewing the 6 or 7 women from each decade who will “represent” for their age group. Because we have the largest representation from women in their 40s and 50s, I’m considering doing more interviews from those decades, and perhaps only 3 or 4 from the teens and 90s. There seems to be so much to learn from mid-life women about what does and doesn’t stimulate desire.

More to come about these fascinating women. But first, a short trip to Texas — because I seem to have this thing for states where the summer drags on forever.


August 27, 2010

Exactly one month ago today, shortly before my 56th birthday, I got braces.

Had I been the recipient of full disclosure about the particulars of this event, I would today be braceless before you.

While my life goes on, my book work continues, my groceries get bought and food actually does get eaten, the only moments when the metal in my mouth isn’t an issue occur when I am sleeping. Even then, I believe they are responsible for the Sahara-like dry mouth I wake up with most days, now that a bulldozer has taken up residence in my mouth.

If I’m not very careful, I still dribble when I drink from cups. Cutting meat with my teeth is pretty much out, and chewing lettuce is a big problem too, since my back teeth can’t touch all the way anymore. When I brush my teeth, I make a huge mess because I’m not able to spit the way I once was.

Many of these complaints can be blamed on my “turbos,” which are flat, metal spikes glued to the back of my two front teeth. They project back into my mouth and there’s almost no way I can find to hold my tongue that keeps it out of the turbos’ way.

Was I told about turbos? No. Not a word. But last time I was in the chair, I ventured to mention how much trouble I am having chewing food and brushing my teeth (i.e. the whole spitting/drooling part).

“Oh that’s your turbos,” I was cheerily told.

Giving these spikes a powerful name like Turbo is not amiss. These guys shorten the time you have to be in braces by 6 months or so. They were not around when I was a kid, but I’m hard put to feel grateful for their invention. Many patients with a bite like mine were once outfitted with braces on the upper teeth for 6 months before they could even begin treatment on the lower teeth — because their current bite would cause them to literally “bite off” the bottom braces if they were installed. So for 6 months, the dentist would resign himself to pushing out those front teeth to the prescribed angle, and THEN beginning work on the bottom teeth.

That won’t do anymore. We must hurry hurry and do it all at once. Ouch and ouch. Yes, I’m grateful for the shortened treatment, but man, do I hate these metal intruders.  They cannot come off quickly enough for me.

After hearing the rationale for them from my dental professional, I asked if I had to wear them the entire time. I don’t, but I forgot to ask for  their expected removal date. Whatever day that is, THAT’S the day I’ll be living for. I’m assuming it’s about 6 months in, so maybe 5 months from now I’ll get these things out …. does that sound right?  Can I make it that long?

Yes, yes. I hear you clucking your tongue (something I can no longer do) and tsk-tsking (ditto) and admonishing me to just buck up, be a good sport, chin up, take it like a … well, a child, in this case.

Not today. Today I am allowing myself to be dismayed that only 1 of my 18 months in braces has passed. One!

At this point I’m just hoping to regain my enjoyment of food sometime during this process. Right now, the fun has been sucked out of eating. It’s just a chore. And usually an unwelcome time of discovery, as I add in new foods and find most of them troublesome in one way or another. Sandwiches, one of my favorite lunches in braceless times, can only be consumed when alone. The amount of bread that collects in my front teeth with just one bite of my innocuous little turkey and lettuce concoction is staggering. And because my back teeth can’t completely meet (courtesy of those oh-so-effective turbos!) the part of my food that doesn’t get stuck in the braces can only be partially chewed. (A friend used the word cud, and it’s frighteningly, depressingly accurate.)

So I end up swallowing a lot of my food pretty much whole, and believe me, extracting the flavor and tickling your taste buds is pretty much impossible with this scenario.

I’ve resorted to making many fresh-fruit smoothies and they are saving my life. Super yummy and healthy too. You’d think I’d lose weight, I know, but even that little perk is denied me. I’m holding steady, when actually it’d be nice to drop a few pounds.

Meanwhile, bookwise, I’ve finished working with the surveys of the teenagers, and have moved on to the twentysomethings. I’m finding that women in this younger age range still leave lots of blanks on our survey, which isn’t surprising, because so many of them are still learning about their responses and their bodies. Once I finish the women in their 30s, it’s time to start writing the book chapter by chapter.

Yay! I’m so ready. And just maybe I’ll get so engrossed that I’ll finally lose touch with these annoying, intrusive TURBOS!

Sidebar: Brace yourself

August 1, 2010

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!