Last year, I got adult braces, which are distinct from kids’ braces in several ways. They were the tooth-colored kind, made of ceramic, so you could not call me metal mouth, just brace face. No one did, which is the first way they differ. I was 14 the first time I had braces. They did their job, but the effects had a statute of limitations.
Getting braces a second time became a priority when midlife seized me. About to turn 40, I had a classic crisis during which I asked the important questions: Who am I? Am I living my best life? And: ugh, can I get my teeth fixed?
I could, actually. My two girls had gone through orthodontic treatments one after the other, and because I was such a good customer, the orthodontist gave me a deal: the price of one person’s braces in addition to two other people’s. Paying for braces three times is another way adult braces differ from kids’.
At first, I was surprised at the pain. Tylenol couldn’t touch the deep soreness the braces caused. Advil, Aleve, margaritas, nothing helped. The pain caused me to hold my mouth half open and make weird hand-shields while talking at work. I apologized to people repeatedly during this period, asking for my grossness to be excused.
In addition to speaking comfortably, adult braces also affected my ability to make out. This is in stark contrast to the first time around in 1992. Metal or no, Mike McLaughlin was happy to make out through Wayne’s World with me. I suppose 11th graders are not too picky that way.
Sadly, at 39, I did not have the confidence of my 14-year-old self. For months I hid my face, avoided kissing my husband, and hissed like a witch at my own reflection. In fact, I was angry. I had convinced myself that getting braces was for dental health reasons. My adult braces called me on my bullshit. It was also about looking good, which I really hated to admit. I had been easily sucked into beauty regimens and rhetoric to stave off mortality and reality. Now I looked terrible, so take that, ego.
The braces broke me down over time. There was no point in worrying about my appearance. Whether I looked good enough to see my friends, to give a presentation at work, to meet someone new — those things happened anyway. Adult braces worked as well on my illusions as they did on my teeth. I wore a Santa sweater at Christmas, leaning in to the ugliness as it were.
When the braces came off, I peered into the rearview mirror of my minivan and was surprised to feel no more or less satisfied than after, say, a regular dentist appointment. I adjusted the mirror away from my face and moved on.
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