Are you getting braces pretty soon? Feeling kind of uneasy about it? Not quite sure what to expect? Then let me tell you about my five-year journey through the world of orthodontics, replete with elastics, pulled teeth, retainers, and much, much more! Let my experience comfort you via schadenfreude, because in all likelihood, you probably won’t have to wear your braces as long as I did!
When I was 16 years old, a trip to an X-ray laboratory revealed the reason I still hadn’t lost my two upper canine baby teeth. You usually lose all of your baby (or primary) teeth by the time you are twelve years old as your adult (or permanent) teeth begin to grow in and take their place. Instead of growing straight down into their proper place, my permanent upper canines were on a diagonal trajectory through the roof of my mouth. The orthodontist said that if I didn’t receive the required surgery to remove my primary canines and have braces installed soon, the adult canine’s path across the inside of the roof of my mouth would sever the roots of my four front teeth, causing them to eventually rot and fall out by the time I turned 30 (which was last year). Sounds like it's about as much fun as a mouthful of chicken poo.
Artist's rendition of what blogger would've looked like without orthodontic treatment
I decided to get braces, but not right away. Being a teenager, I was more concerned with not looking like Jaws in time for my grad photo, so the process began a year or two later when my orthodontist inserted tiny blue pieces of rubber called spacers in between my bottom molar teeth. Aptly named, spacers are applied two weeks before the braces to force more room between molars. This was definitely the most pain I experienced the entire time I had braces. For two weeks I could only eat soup, which I hate, because soup is glorified water.
The actual applying of the braces was surprisingly painless, if somewhat tedious. The procedure takes about two hours, but at least you get to sit the whole time! To start, your teeth need to be very dry in preparation for the special bonding glue, so you’re probably going to be wearing cheek separators the whole time. Get used to looking like this for a couple hours.
Remember those spacers? It’s finally time to yank those bad boys out and replace them with a thin metal support band that the orthodontist will have molded to the shape of your molars. The metal bands have a hook attached to them called a bracket [not the same as the brackets containing these words]. These brackets, the wire (or archwire) that runs through them, and the elastic bands that hold them together give braces their cool, iconic look. Brackets are attached to the front of each of your teeth with bonding glue that must be dried with a space-age looking LED dental curing light, capable of concentrating high heat levels onto the tiny dabs of glue to activate the sticky resin inside. If your orthodontist tries to stick your braces on with a glue stick or a bottle of Elmer's, you might want to hit the yellow pages again.
When I Was a Vampire
Blogger during his time as a garlic-hating vampire
This is where my oral situation strays beyond the range of ordinary. After a few months of wearing my braces, it was time to have my primary canine teeth surgically removed to allow the adult versions to take their rightful place. This was tricky because, you may remember, my adult canines were moving on a horizontal plain instead of vertically like normal teeth. The surgeon cut away part of the skin off the roof of my mouth to expose my misguided teeth beneath and attached a bracket and an additional archwire. The canines would slowly be pulled into place, swung down like a drawbridge, making me look like a vampire in the process.
Four More Years! Four More Years!
Braces usually take between six months to two years to remedy your dental dilemma, including monthly “tightening” appointments where your orthodontist replaces your archwire and elastic bands (you can also choose different colors of elastics each time). Your teeth will feel a little sore and may sting like a bee after tightening for a day or two, so it’s likely to be soup for you, once again.
Because of the unusual situation in my mouth, it was over four years before I was able to book my final appointment with the orthodontist. Before starting the two-hour removal process, he let out a big sigh of relief and said, “Rhys, for awhile there, I really didn’t think this was going to work”.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, doc.
But that’s not all.
Braces do a great job setting your teeth into the desired position, but once they’re taken off, the teeth won’t necessarily stay put. Another stipulation many face post-braces is wearing a retainer on a daily basis for up to a year, and even after that, most orthodontists will recommend you wear it 3-5 times per week for the rest of your life.
Me? By the time I was 23 and had been wearing braces for my entire adult life, I was pretty much through with having stuff on my gums and teeth and abstained from wearing my retainer for so long that it doesn’t even fit on my teeth anymore. This is what I look like now:
My teeth still look quite normal, but I don’t recommend skipping dates with your retainer. Or your toothbrush. Or floss. Or toilet paper.
I'm sure you know what you're doing.