The Braced Experience
Excerpts: from Teasing Lessons — from Holding On — from Bunk HG HQ
From Teasing Lessons
I should have been prepared for my braces. My parents and I discussed them for months before I got them. I talked to that braces counselor, Dr.Allegretta, about what it would be like. And Dr.Wrighting gave me all the information I could possibly want and answered all my questions. I studied the Braces Handbook she gave me, and I watched the Dr.Wrighting-DVD over and over, especially the parts showing the braces being installed. I even spent a lot of time at Dr.Wrighting's website, chatting with patients who had just gotten their braces.
All the preparation made me feel I was sort of ready for them. In my mind it was all pretty clear. And everything went well the day I got them. I wasn't really happy about it, but I was concentrating so much on the procedure I was going to undergo that my mind was fully occupied and I wasn't really worried. Going through it was then like going through a checklist, comparing what was happening to me to what I had seen on the DVD and read about in the handbook. And everything went according to plan.
[. . .}
It was only when Dr.Wrighting removed the cheek retractor and turned off the spotlight and began to unstrap me that I suddenly realized there was one thing I wasn't prepared for: having braces.
It seems obvious and simple. Having braces means having metal and wire cemented to your teeth. That's all it is, I had told myself, but when I suddenly had braces I realized that didn't begin to describe it.
First there was the feel of the metal in my mouth. The brackets and bands, they actually take up a lot of space. And they have edges and sides that I wasn't used to, rubbing against the inside of my cheeks. And they are completely immovable, like weird growths on my teeth. Instead of the smooth front of my teeth my tongue now felt all these protuberances, two whole metallic ridges with rounded and rough edges. And within a few hours of them getting put on there was that pain creeping through my jaws, to the very roots of my teeth. It was like a toothache, but it felt much deeper, and it was impossible to bite down on anything, or chew anything. And even if you know there's going to be a pain like that, the actual feeling is something totally different.
And then there was the way they looked, and the way I looked. I had metal tracks running across my teeth now ! I didn't just have braces, I looked like someone who had braces. And that may seem an obvious and ridiculous insight, but the actual reality of it was overwhelming, especially when I began to realize that it wasn't just that I had braces, but that everyone saw I had braces. Everyone. It wasn't something I could keep to myself, and deal with on my own or with just the close friends I was willing to share it with. My braces were completely public, as big a part of me as the clothes I wore or the way I did my hair. Except I had no control over them. If I didn't like my hair, I could cut it or style it differently. If I didn't like my outfit I could put something else on. I could put on exactly what I wanted. But there was nothing I could do about my braces.
I thought everything would be the same with the braces, except for the small inconveniences of the way they hurt when they were tightened. Instead, everything was different. They made me someone completely different. I wasn't just a girl now, I was a girl with braces. Everyone who saw me or talked to me saw them as part of me. And I had a lot of trouble accepting that.
From Holding On
Mom had been terribly disappointed that I needed braces. Not that it came as a surprise, but she hoped it could be handled by devices you only wore at night, so that no one, not even her, would ever have to see them. But I was almost thirteen when they first sent me to an orthodontist, and Dr.Wrighting explained that I had outgrown most functional appliances by then, and that fixed appliances — metal brackets cemented on my teeth — were the most effective way of treating my malocclusion. Mom reluctantly gave in. She wanted Dr.Wrighting treating me because Dr.Wrighting was supposed to be the best, and if that's what Dr.Wrighting thought was necessary than she was willing to put up with me having railroad-tracks for a year or two. But she wasn't happy about it, and at dinners or parties when she wanted to impress people I always sensed she was ashamed that her daughter was wired up like that. No fancy dresses or perfect manners, or even having every hair in place could make up for the unsightly braces. And they were, of course, a corrective device, saying louder than any words how imperfect I still was, still requiring a good straightening out. No, Mom couldn't stand it when I had braces.
I knew the retainers were coming after the braces came off, so I was sort of prepared for them, and after a few tough days adjusting to all that plastic bulk in my mouth I found I didn't mind that them too much. There was a downside to them too, especially when I tried to talk or eat, but at least there was no more jagged metal rubbing into my lips and the retainer wires were a whole lot less unsightly than the braces had been.
Mom thought they were barely an improvement. The shiny wires across my teeth were still a gross and highly visible imperfection, and the acrylic plates behind both my top and bottom teeth affected by speaking, giving me a noticeable thick lisp. Mom endured it when we were just family, but when I sat down at the table when they had company, or did my turn around the room at their parties she was embarrassed by the way I looked and sounded. She constantly prodded me to at least take them out for these public appearances, but I told her Dr.Wrighting didn't permit it. I only gave in for a few family photographs, when it was only for a matter of minutes that I slipped them out of my mouth.
Actually, Dr.Wrighting has told me that I could take the retainers out if I felt the occasion was important enough, but that I shouldn't make a habit of it. I found it easier not to give in to temptation. Both the upper and lower retainers snapped onto clasps still cemented to my teeth, so they fit securely even when I ate, and even though it was cumbersome I got used to it. It was easier just leaving them in place, not having to weigh every moment and meeting of the day whether or not I could or should take them out.
But there was only so much Mom could put up with. Her elaborate and fancy birthday party was a very special event, and she didn't want anything to spoil it. Yes, that went as far as two wires on her daughter's teeth
From Bunk HG HQ
Braces are pretty bad, but it's the accessories that kill you. The elastics and springs and expanders and mini-retainers and everything else Dr.Wrighting can think of attaching to that surfeit of metal permanently cemented to your teeth. After only six months in her care she'd already used what I was sure was close to every conceivable orthodontic extra in my mouth, but of course she saved the best for last.
The mother of all accessories.
It wasn't like I hadn't known it was coming. My braces had those little tubes on the bands on the molars hidden far back in my mouth, and I knew what they were for. And Dr.Wrighting had warned my parents and me that she was planning to use an extraoral device, as she liked to call it. But that doesn't make it any easier when she utters those words condemning you to actually wearing it. And she even said it with a smile. "I think it's time to start getting you ready for the headgear now."
Ready ? Has anyone ever been prepared to get headgear ? Maybe a year of getting me ready might do it. No, not even that.
Of course, she picks her moments. Strapped down, the cheek retractor holding my mouth wide open, I couldn't say a word in protest. Oh, I know she saw it in my eyes, but she just smiled. And it wasn't just to avoid having me be able to say anything that she sprung it on me right then. She wanted me to be in that position. Helpless, immobilized. It was just another reminder of who is in complete charge. That what Dr.Wrighting says, goes.
It's not like I don't like Dr.Wrighting. I do, as much as I could ever like someone who makes my life this hard and makes me go around looking this way. Sometimes it annoys me, but I think her no-nonsense way is the only way to get me through this. I can get Mom and Dad to let me get my way about most things, but Dr.Wrighting is like a brick wall. She doesn't budge. And if I don't follow her instructions to the T she makes me feel guilty as hell. And she makes me pay for it. So after my appointments there are usually some tears and I yell at my parents for making me go to that witch, but deep down I'm glad that they do, and glad that she's as stern as she is.
But headgear ? That's a whole new level to my orthodontic adventures.
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