Orthodontics: Fear, loathing and serious gratitude

I can remember being fearful, yet jealous. My older sister came home from the orthodontist with a mouth full of metal at age 11. She also was sporting some seriously scary headgear which she had to wear, gasp, to school. But the bottom line was herteeth were being straightened, while mine remained an unsightly physics lesson in what happens when too many large objects try to occupy too small a space.

It would be another four years before I got my own set of braces (while my sister woefully still sported hers, as she was a drawn-out “live case” for the orthodontists-in-training at the local dental school). While in the seventh grade, I gleefully had six teeth pulled—four molars and two “bonus” teeth hiding in my palate—and got my beloved braces. Yes, I wore the awkward neck gear to school for a while, but it was worth it. Two years later I got the braces off and had a dazzling, million dollar smile.

A few decades later, as a mom, I’d look at my kids’ crooked teeth and instead of daydreaming about their future-perfect smiles, I found myself focusing on the “million dollar” effort. I had buried my head, choosing not to “go there.” But once again, my gig as editor of a parenting magazine helped give me the kick in the butt I needed. Writing about the latest, greatest in orthodontics, I learned that while yes, the price tag is still steep, treatments have come a long way and braces don’t have to be quite so painful, or unsightly, as in our youth. And there’s this new thing (well, new to me, at least) called Phase I treatment, that allows kids as young as seven or eight to have early intervention, hopefully reducing (or even eliminating) time spent in braces when all of their adult teeth have erupted.

Inspired by the article, I took my kids in for evaluations. My daughter, who turns eight soon, has a mouth full of metal now—well, her upper teeth at least. Plus an expander. Yes, it’s a pain, for her and me. I’m the one who each night must turn the hardware that’s expanding her upper jaw. She gets Motrin for her discomfort; I just get creeped out that I’m prying her jaw apart, little by little.

She complains about all that she suddenly cannot eat. But within a year, her outrageous open bite and over-jut should be well tamed; the condition of her teeth will no longer be the source of unfortunate teasing she’d already experienced from older schoolmates. And for that, I’d happily cough up the big bucks, turn the screws nightly, and hear her whine about her “no-no” food list.

But I’m not looking forward to telling her that “headgear” is most likely in her future.