My twelve year old is getting a full set of braces today. Just the thought of braces sends me back to the ten years I spent at the orthodontist. I was on the super-duper-decade-long-extended plan saved only for those kids who required a dozen phases to straighten things out. Orthodontists dream of a mouth like mine. Having had teeth pulled, head gear, neck gear, braces and numerous retainers; I feel I am an expert on the subject of oral reconstruction. I was only seven the first time I went to the orthodontist. Nowadays, it is not unlikely to start that early, but back in the seventies it was a true indicator of how messed up my mouth really was. I can describe my smile in two words: bucked teeth.
In second grade I was handed the packet of school pictures I had taken weeks before with Mrs. Brown’s class. I thought they were cute. A red bow sat on the right side of my long brown hair that my mom styled the morning of class pictures. I wore a favorite blue and red dress that had a busy print and white islet around the collar. On my face was my biggest and best smile. I carried those pictures carefully when walking home from school. I showed them to my mother. She grinned at them and immediately decided we would not buy them. She gently tried to tell me it was not a great photo and that we would buy them next time. What? I started crying. Upon closer inspection of the school pictures, my front teeth were hanging over my bottom lip like a mountain climber dangling over the side of a cliff. There was a horse like quality to my smile, but I did not care. I cried until she agreed to buy photos.
When I was nine I had to go to an oral surgeon to have seven teeth pulled. I remember sitting back in the big chair and the gas mask being put over my mouth. I had never gone thru anything like this before. When I woke up my mother sat there with this little tooth fairy pillow that had a pocket with seven one dollar bills rolled up inside. I liked that. The doctor gave me the seven teeth he pulled. They were abnormally long, like the eye teeth of a tiger. I had stitches to sew up the canyon sized holes that the teeth had plugged up. They were big black stitches. My mouth was sore.
I wore neck gear and head gear at various times. When I did, sores on the sides of my lips formed from the metal rubbing against them. It felt like paper cuts . They cracked and bled, but would never heal because every night I would reinsert the metal contraption. Vaseline was my best friend. I used to lather up my mouth so my lips would not dry out over night. I could not breathe through my nose so my metal mouth hung open all night. I was a mess. The only part I liked about neck gear was the carrying case that I decorated with stickers. It had a zipper on the top and it I felt like a business woman carrying a miniature briefcase. Other than that, head and neck gear sucked.
There was a period of time I had to strap rubber bands from the top of my mouth down to a metal clasp on the outside bottom part of my mouth. “Be an Eager Beaver, wear your elastic bands” was written on the white envelope that held the bands. There was a picture of a lame blue beaver on every pack. Every month I had a date with the orthodontist who had zero chair-side manners. When it came to time tighten those iron giants wrapped around each tooth, it hurt. Now, wax had become my best friend. I could feel my heart beating in my gums for a couple days and then it faded, until the next month when the braces were cranked up agan.
My two sisters never stepped foot or mouth in an orthodontist’s office. Just little old buck toothed me. They both had big, beautiful, free smiles. My only consolation is that one sister wore glasses and both needed to visit the dermatologist. Truthfully, I would have traded my horrendous mouth for some zits, if I could. When my son returns from getting his braces today, I will hand him two advil and ask that he reads this. Maybe it will cheer him up knowing I have bought his school pictures every year.