My time with braces: Part 1

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My time with braces: Part 1

In the United States, around 50% to 70% of children and young adults will wear braces. Most of us are not born with perfectly straight teeth. Luckily, the orthodontic profession is around and those of us with teeth that suffer from imperfect alignment have the option to get them straightened to our satisfaction.

Early motivations

When I was a child, I didn’t like my smile. My teeth were actually straight. They were pearly white. I used to get compliments on how white they were all of the time. My problem was that they protruded forward. I thought that it was even worse than having crooked teeth. I would never put too much expression in my smile. My smiles would only partially extend to both sides of my face so as to limit how much my teeth were seen. If something humorous happened that forced an earnest laugh from me, I would cover my smile with one of my hands.

The first time that I remember being aware that my smile wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing smile was when I was 4 years old. I took school pictures in kindergarten and I smiled broadly. I think that was the last time that I ever smiled broadly in my life. Back in those days, I had large gaps in all of my front teeth. My pictures came back from school and I remember vividly that my father saw my pictures and asked me, “Could you smile with your mouth closed when you take your pictures?”.

He wasn’t being direct with me about why he would make such a request. I can tell you that even at the age of 4, I knew exactly what he meant. I was crushed. I began to think of my smile as something that was offensive for others to look at. It prompted me to limit the breadth of my smile. Even after I became a teenager and my teeth grew enough to eliminate all of my gaps, I still restrained my smiles. This was a habit so ingrained in me that even after I was done with my braces I still didn’t let my smiles get too big. No matter how much time has passed and how much I have accomplished since that time, I still can’t let go of this feeling that I should limit the exposure of my teeth to the world.

My parents made a very good living and provided my sister and I with a wonderful upbringing. We went for regular medical check-ups, dental visits and appointments with an optometrist (I had astigmatism as a child). In retrospect, it seems odd that they never investigated the possibility of having me fitted for braces. Both of my parents and my sister sported perfectly aligned teeth. Neither of them ever wore braces, straight teeth seemed to run in our family. As I grew older my teeth began to protrude outward. Despite this, there was never any talk of seeking out any corrective measures for my worsening problem.

Growing up

People eventually began to notice that I didn’t smile too enthusiastically. I was often asked, “Why don’t you smile more?”. Another question was, “Why do you smile with your mouth closed in your pictures?”. One of my cousins once noted, “Every time that you laugh you cover your mouth!”. I never let on that I was embarrassed about my teeth and I am sure that I didn’t have to. It didn’t take a Rocket Scientist to tell that I didn’t feel very confident in the alignment of my teeth.

I went through grade school, middle school and high school in the same way.  I constantly exercied restraint instead of laughing heartily and smiling broadly. I was a happy kid but people thought that I was depressed. In a way, I suppose that I was holding my own happiness back because I wasn’t allowing for the full range of physical expression of my euphoric moments. This is something that I am sure that lots of people do.

All throughout college, I really wanted braces. My college years were not exactly the most prosperous years of my life. I had to bide my time while I finished my studies. When I finished college I was in plenty of debt. Still, I was obsessed with finding a way to pay for braces. A friend of mine had braces all throughout college. He had no shame about it. He smiled broadly and was very sociable. Seeing somebody in my age group unabashedly wearing braces gave me even more motivation to find an orthodontist. My friend, like myself, was saddled with debt from college. I was curious as to how he was able to afford braces. He told me that he was able to get his braces at a discount because he received his orthodontic treatment from a dental school. He provided me with a crucial lead.

Off to get braces

I went to the dental school that he referred me to. I met with an orthodontic student as well as his professor, a licensed professional orthodontist. After a brief consultation they decided that I was a good candidate to receive braces. This assessment was made after an examination of my teeth, state of mind and medical history.

I remember that the orthodontists were very nice but their secretary was a bit on the rude side. I was told to return in 2 weeks and we would get started at that time. My payment plan was $100.00 per month. That worked out to approximately $25.00 per week, these were payment installments that I could afford.

When I returned for my first visit, they advised me that in order to get rid of the protrusion they would have to remove my first 4 bicuspids. It made sense. My teeth were tightly packed in my mouth and there was no way that they were going to move back without some sort of space being created in my mouth. I spoke with a new orthodontist this time. He would not be the one to conduct the full term of my treatment. He was just taking impressions. The orthodontic student that I met during my first visit was not necessary for this part of the process. He would take over later. The young man that took my impressions was an orthodontic student, too. The first visit was the only time that I ever saw him. He said something to me that stuck with me in all the years since, “You are at the beginning of a long process. But when you are finished, the reward will be great. Like the start of most journeys that take a long time, the hardest part is at the beginning. Once you get past this, it will get much easier.”.

He would turn out to be right. The hardest part about wearing braces was the beginning. However, that was not the reason why his words stuck with me for all of these years. The only reason that I can think of as to why his words stuck with me is because they would turn out to be true in many facets of my life. 

(For Part 2 of this story, click here.)

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