Thursday, May 9, 2019

Grin and bear it

I have a complicated relationship with my teeth. It was clear pretty early on that something was up; my 7th grade class photo sets me squarely in the “werewolf” category. Those freakish prominent canines must have given my parents pause, as the following year’s portrait proudly features the iron grid that would become my constant companion for the next five-odd years.

I hate visiting the dentist. I have always hated visiting the dentist. When I was growing up, I remember sitting in our family dentist’s waiting room facing a giant cardboard cutout of a smiling tooth reminding patients to floss, which inevitably prompted pangs of guilt for not flossing more often (floss is gross. Always has been, always will be). This was before I discovered the water pick, which was finally a dental hygiene product I could get behind. Our dentist also had a strange wheeze, which made each visit all the more unsettling. I’d be in The Chair, gazing up at the “calming” seagull mobile he’d thoughtfully attached to the ceiling, listening to him kind of wheeze-chuckle as he poked sharp whirring objects around in my mouth, and counting the seconds until I could get far, far away from there.

If a culprit must be named, it would have to be my mouth size to tooth size ratio, which surely places me in the upper echelons of “holy sh*t those are some big teeth.” My orthodontist, a gold-chain wearing, hairy chest-bearing Fred Ward look-alike, wasted no time in removing eight of them before binding the rest in metal and wire, which come to think of it MAY explain the near-total lack of male attention I received throughout high school, despite being a cheerleader. Either that or the boys were all intimidated by my superior intellect. Surely it’s the latter.

For whatever reason, “Fred” placed various intermediary steps along the rose-strewn path to hard metal. I distinctly recall headgear. Whoever invented the headgear was one sick mofo, is all I have to say. My orthodontist was kind enough to allow me to wear the blasted thing only at night, thus somewhat sparing my tender ego, however—

Go ahead and Google “headgear.” I’ll wait.

If I close my eyes, I can still feel the metal-on-metal grinding caused by sliding those weird little wire ends into the attachments around my back molars (*shudder*). To make matters worse, this was during my “ringlet” phase, which required sleeping with a full head of curlers, most of which were made out of plastic. In other words, self-inflicted torture in addition to imposed torture. I must have been insane (or a teenage girl).

Why not both? (Photo by Bill Benson.)

There was also a little stint with a splint. A splint is yet another orthodontic torture device, made of some plastic-like substance with a decidedly chemical taste. I hated mine. I hated it so much that my subconscious moved me to throw it into the trash along with my half-eaten hamburger one fateful evening when a friend’s mom took us to McDonald’s on the way home after a day at the mall.

Twenty minutes or so after leaving, I realized my mistake and sheepishly asked whether we could turn around and go back, which we did. But then I couldn’t remember which trash can I’d thrown the accursed appliance into, so I had to go to the order counter and ask the cashier if I could please empty all the trash bags, which to her credit she said OK to, as long as I would empty them somewhere other than inside the restaurant. Long story short, I took about four full bags of garbage out of McDonald’s and crammed them into the trunk of my friend’s mom’s Mercedes. Once home, my own mom looked on in bemusement as I proceeded to dump said garbage all over the driveway and rummage around in it with a flashlight until God only knows what hour.

Yes, but did I find my splint? Of course not. But on the up side, my parents didn’t bother getting angry about the loss, as I had clearly suffered enough as it was. After that, my orthodontist informed us in no uncertain terms that there were two remaining options: braces or jaw surgery. I chose braces. Wearing them, caring for them, and having them checked/aligned/tightened every month hurt. A lot. The blessed day I got them taken off I couldn’t believe how good it felt, regardless of how Bugs Bunny humongous my teeth suddenly looked.

Oh, but then came the retainer part. No one tells you about this. You undergo the pain and humiliation of harboring a miniature railroad inside your mouth, right at the apex of adolescent self-consciousness, only to be told upon your day of liberation that in fact, no—you have to wear this retainer thing for an unspecified period of time. In light of my splint incident, a retainer sounded like a terrible idea. So I didn’t wear it much. Result: my teeth are just this side of straight.

My five-year-old son said as much the other day. He wanted to play dentist, and, taking his role very seriously, he said, “Mom, some of your teeth are kind of crooked.” I said, “Yes, that’s because Mommy didn’t wear her retainer.” “Her what?” “Never mind.” What he failed to notice is that I barely have more teeth than he does.

Since I had my annual dental check-up this very morning, I asked my French dentist about whether perchance there might be any newish solution for straightening just a couple of teeth without full-on transforming back into the Iron Maiden. She said that in fact, yes, there was a solution that was “very discreet,” as well as fairly priced—a splint.

I’mma have to think about this.

Class of '97 (go Dawgs!), still rocking the metal look 😬