Saturday, February 9, 2008

Embracing my braces

I've had braces on my teeth for more than two years now, and it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Everyone had warned me how painful and inconvenient it would be, how I'd have to eat a lot of soup and give up all the things I loved to eat, like nuts and tortilla chips and popcorn. That didn't happen. I still eat what I want. Sure, for a few days after getting them tightened, I have to take it easy on the crunchy food, but I certainly don't need to give it up altogether.

The tightening isn't fun, but it isn't terrible, either. A friend of mine gave me a tip that really helped - take a painkiller about half an hour before you go to the orthodontist. Praise be for ibuprofen liquid gel caps.

I expected I would have terrible headaches after getting my braces tightened, but it wasn't like that at all for me. Instead, I'd get really dizzy and queasy. I'm guessing it's got something to do with my middle ear and the jaw being near that, but in any event, I became known as the patient who had to lie in the chair for 20 minutes before she could stumble out of the office. But, as with the pain, your body adapts. These days, I don't even get dizzy when I go. A little wonky, maybe, but that's par for the course for me ;)

I think I may even miss the braces when they're gone. For one, they make me look younger. How flattering is it when you get asked for your ID at the age of 32, and get hit on by 20-year-olds? Oh yeah, loving the braces.

Interestingly enough, the part for me that was most painful and traumatic was everything that came before the braces were even put on.

I had to have four teeth pulled out to make enough room in my mouth for the braces to move the teeth around. This was an incredibly traumatic experience because:

a) I've never had any real dental work done before (besides wisdom teeth being taken out, but they gave me the good drugs for that, so it doesn't count), and

b) my dentist, for some completely inexplicable reason, doesn't believe in gassing and drugging his patients out of their misery. I didn't discover this second fact until it was too late to reschedule the appointment and still keep the orthodontist appointments I had booked.

So, I sucked it up. And cried in front of my dentist and his assistant. In my defense, I warned them ahead of time that I was really stressed, and they still wouldn't give me drugs. So, I told myself, I will not be ashamed of crying. If I need to cry, I will, because that's my right.

I was actually doing pretty well until the first tooth made this huge popping noise as it came out of its socket. Ugh, that sound will haunt me to the end of my days. Well, once I heard that, I just lost it and started shaking and crying. It was a nice little public breakdown that could have been averted with drugs, but hey, I'm not bitter. Just emotionally scarred.

I went back for a second appointment two weeks later to get the two teeth on the other side of my mouth taken out. The problem this time was that the dentist had injured my lower jaw (which is perpetually injured and the reason I need the braces in the first place) when he took out the first two teeth. So, every time he tried to pull my tooth, I'd have to stop him because the pressure he put on my jaw caused such excruciating pain.

He started getting really flustered and upset and you could tell he felt helpless and didn't know what to do. He even asked me, "What can I do so that you won't be in pain?" I wanted to say, "Hey, I'm not the one with the doctorate in dentistry, buddy!" Eventually, he ended up wrapping his arm around my head to stabilize my jaw and yanking away.

I hope I never have to go through that again. Kids, this is the reason your mom told you to brush and floss!

Two weeks later, I went to my first orthodontic appointment to get elastics put in between my teeth. Yes, you read that right. In. Between. My. Teeth.. As you can imagine, it hurt and made it almost impossible to chew anything. And it was like that for two weeks straight. It made me look forward to getting the braces strapped on, because then, at least, the elastics would be gone.

Also at that appointment, I had to watch a video about all the things that you're not allowed to do with braces. Nothing like focusing on the positive before you even have the braces, right? The assistant led me to a room with a TV/VCR and a 10-year-old kid and his mom. Then, she gave me a bag with all the orthodontic cleaning supplies I'd need to start me on my "journey". Also in the bag was a snack-sized package of cheezies. I guessed this was an endorsement of the kind of snack food I should be eating with braces - soft and airy rather than hard and crunchy. When I saw the bag, I exclaimed, "Hey, cool, cheezies!"

The 10-year-old kid said, somewhat despondently, "I didn't get any cheezies." Apparently, the assistant had gotten his kit from a different room where the treats were in short supply.

I replied, "Hey, they're breaking open my jaw and wiring it shut. I think I've earned these cheezies!" Yes, a bigger person would have given the kid the chips, but screw that. They were mine! Besides, it's not like I broke them open and ate them in front of him. Though I was tempted.

We then watched the video, which basically told us our lives would be over. The video's key message was that with braces, you're not allowed to eat anything but moosh and cheezies. But the moosh can't have curry in it, because that would stain the clear braces. And come on, what's moosh without curry? You're also not supposed to drink coffee, but I was fine with that because that's the one vice I don't have.

The video was quite over dramatic, making statements like, "Of course, smoking would be disastrous", implying that if you disobeyed any of the rules, a great earthquake would open up the earth, swallowing up not only you and your family, but also your precious, precious braces. I was doing pretty well until the video said that I couldn't have red wine.

"Nooooooooooooo!" I exclaimed. The 10-year-old kid's mom turned and gave me a look that was either sympathetic or patronizing. I'm guessing the latter. She was probably still bitter that I wouldn't give her kid the cheezies.

For the next two weeks, I gorged myself on hard crunchy foods, red wine and curry, just in case.

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