When I was in college, a certain young man I dated told me he was thinking of buying me a very expensive, somewhat shiny gift. Well, what would you think?
As it turns out, he meant braces. I’m not kidding. At the time, I never would have let him spend that much money on me. There have been many times since that I wished I had.
But things didn’t work out for us, which is okay. He probably would have been the type to give me a toaster for Valentine’s Day.
But he did have a point. My dainty little mouth is simply not large enough to hold 32 teeth in an organized fashion. Really.
It’s also true that I used to make a clicking sound when I chewed. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I didn’t chew so much.
But I clicked along just fine until two things came together: A troublesome dental issue and the realization that the year would run out before the money I’d saved in my medical flex plan would. On the bright side, my husband and I were very healthy in 2016. On the downside, the law governing medical flex plans wouldn’t allow us to use the leftovers towards a European vacation.
It wasn’t enough to cover the braces—or a European vacation, but it was a good down payment. And that’s how I found myself wearing braces at a time in life when people are more likely to wear dentures. You think I’m exaggerating, but I would have qualified for an AARP discount if the orthodontist had offered one. He didn’t. I asked.
And now that I’ve been de-braced, it’s time to debrief, because, along with straight teeth and click-free dining, I’ve gained some valuable insights for anyone who is now or will ever be going through the experience, as well as anyone who has to live with them:
1) Brushing your teeth when you have braces is like trying to rake oak leaves in a yard full of juniper shrubs. There’s a lot in the way.
I even used a Waterpik, which until I got used to it was a lot like spraying my face with a kitchen sink sprayer. Even when I got better with the Waterpik, I still regularly came across things in my mouth that I no longer remembered eating.
2) Orthodontic rubber bands have a way of migrating throughout your home, then hiding and reappearing later, much like Legos, Airsoft pellets and cat hair. Someday, after you’ve had the carpet professionally cleaned and you’ve packed up, sold your home and moved far away, the new owners will still be finding them.
3) You will feel self-conscious and for one very good reason: Everyone is looking at you.
More specifically, they are looking at your mouth. They can’t help it. And not only are they looking, they’re judging. Even your orthodontist is judging.
The story I’m about to tell is absolutely true. I feel the need to preface it this way because it’s so unbelievable. Also, because not all the stories I tell are true.
First, let me say, my orthodontist was generally a kind-hearted professional. But there was one visit…
I told him that my smile seemed crooked with the braces. He studied my before photos and my x-rays. Then he said nonchalantly, the way you might point out the hail damage on a stranger’s car, that, and I’m paraphrasing here, “See there, you’ve always had a crooked smile. And look at that! Your right eyebrow is cockeyed too. And by the way, did you ever break your nose?”
No, I did not, but I was thinking about breaking his. And I almost asked him if we dated back in college.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)