Adults with Braces
By Jennifer E. Jones
I like to pretend I’m a good looking person. I can dress myself; Alabaster by Banana Republic is my scent, and I have killer shins. Sure, there are imperfections, but at 29, I’ve finally found a place of contentment with the girl I see in the mirror.
So, why – oh why – did I get braces?
I was never wild about my smile. The overbite and crooked tooth or two weren’t terribly noticeable, but I noticed and so did my mother. She started dropping hints after the New Year that perhaps one of my resolutions should be getting some work done. As most adult daughters know, a mom’s subtle suggestion can carry a lot of weight.
I interrogated a friend of mine who was about my age and had just gotten her braces off. She said, “You hardly know you have them on after a while. They’re great conversation starters, and they make you look youthful. Just get the clear ones and you’ll be fine.”
Thus, in pursuit of youth, witty social anecdotes and straight teeth, I called her orthodontist and made an appointment. It didn’t take me long to realize that my good pal left out a few details.
I sat in the waiting room amongst children and teens -- feeling like that one tall kid in class who was left back a few grades. Like most doctors, they make you wait 20 minutes after your scheduled appointment time because they want you to socialize with your “peers.” After asking the kid next to me how he liked having neon, multi-colored brackets, I ran out of things to say. Lucky for me, a rather rural mother across the room started telling the story of how she killed a snake that crawled into her house with a butter knife. It was weird but oddly fascinating.
Thankfully they called my name, and I spent the next hour making plans that would affect my smile and two years worth of social events. He calmed my nerves by saying that, indeed, I would only experience some "slight discomfort". I left that first appointment with not only a new appreciation for the medical science of orthodontia, but I also learned how to dismantle reptiles with common kitchen utensils.
They spread out your initial treatments to give you plenty of time to change your mind and decide you want a love life. After several visits with my feet in the air and my mouth stretched open like Clockwork Orange, I got the clear brackets as my friend suggested. They were supposed to be less conspicuous but honestly it looked like my teeth had little teeth.
I soon discovered what my friend meant by youthful. I hadn’t felt that awkward about my appearance since junior high (so technically it worked). I learned that "slight discomfort" was old orthodontist humor more accurately described as "pain beyond your comprehension." It was like a migraine in my mouth. After every tightening, I looked at the kids in the waiting room and wondered what they did to their parents to deserve this kind of torture.
I was also unaware of another side effect: paranoia. At first, I was convinced everyone was lying when they told me, "I can barely see them." How could they not? I found myself folding my lips under my teeth when I met people as to not smile. Even if I were comfortable enough to talk, I’d stare people dead in the eye to see if they were looking down at my mouth. I looked for any excuse to make myself more of a spectacle than I actually was.
Pretty soon, I found that it was mostly I who was thinking about my mouth. I continued to meet new people who, instead of raising pitchforks and torches, were rather eager to share their personal stories of getting braces. They laughed with me about the “illegal” foods they ate, and we commiserated about the pain. They always cautioned me to wear my retainer afterwards. And those who hadn’t gotten braces before mostly expressed how they wished they had.
Of course the first few weeks were tough because I could only eat smoothies and vegetable soups since my mouth was so sore. But within a month I found my clothes fitting better. Jeans I hadn't been able to wear in years came back into regular rotation.
I know a lot of people say having braces put a damper on their love life, but strangely enough, I dated more the first few months than I had in the previous year. Perhaps I finally found the loophole men were looking for… a girl who doesn’t take herself too seriously.
It’s true. There’s something about having a mouth full of metal that makes you a little silly. It took a while, but eventually my appearance brought out my comical side. Also, I wasn't obsessed with looking picture perfect when I left the house. When you have the smile of a fifth grader, you can only look but so stellar in a business suit. That alone relieved an immense amount of social pressure.
It's been more than a year since that fateful first visit to the orthodontist. As I count down the days to dental freedom, I can see how much I've changed. There's the physical: the overbite is disappearing and the teeth are perfectly straight. However, my smile is brighter now because it shows more than just my teeth. The real me shines through, and now that I can see the finish line, finding myself was worth the "slight discomfort".
Jennifer E. Jones is the Media Center / CBNmusic Producer who is looking forward to chewing gum again some time in spring of 2008. Read her bio.
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