Embracing My Braces

I am 49 years old, and I have had braces on my teeth for about 10 months now. I recently read that orthodontic treatment in adults has increased 40% in the last 20 years, which may be an indication that we are preparing for longer and healthier “second halves” and, it also means that am not alone in my orthodontic journey.

Last year, when I was 48, I decided to get braces with the goal to have them off before I turn 50. I had never had braces as an adolescent – I didn’t really need them – but as I aged, my teeth continued to shift. So, on the advice of my dentist, I went to an orthodontist and began the journey toward braces.

I read all of the data on adults and braces – the increased risk for periodontal disease and the complications that can arise as a result of adult-related procedures like crowns and root canals. I also read the good stuff about how improving the bite will pull your jaw line forward and give a more youthful appearance (bonus!). Cosmetically and physically, I was ready for the challenge. Emotionally, I’m not sure I was prepared for the ride.

There is pain associated with braces. Moving teeth hurts, and the inside of my mouth felt like I’d installed a barbed wire fence against the inside of my cheeks. I carried dental wax and Advil everywhere I went and started counting the days to completion almost from the beginning.

There is the unavoidable “nerd” quality. It’s not bad enough that a few years ago I found that my 40-something eyesight required that I wear glasses. Now I have glasses, braces and I have to wear rubber bands in my mouth 24-7. I feel (and look) like a minor character from a 1980s Molly Ringwald movie.

And there is the food. Eating in public is a lesson in humility, and you learn who your real friends are (anyone who will let you walk around with something in your teeth is not your friend). What you can eat becomes an issue – soup is good, apples are bad.

But, braces have been great for my self-awareness, and my awareness of others’ experiences. I have found myself apologizing to my daughter for not fully understanding what she went through during middle school and high school as she struggled with her braces. I am aware of other adults with braces – a kind of band of brothers and sisters brought together by the sometimes humiliating, sometimes painful, and always hopeful experience of braces.

All-in-all, I am glad I got them, and I think I have done a pretty good job of embracing the braces. I am on the downhill now, and look forward to the day my orthodontist announces my graduation from this life experience. I will forever more be grateful for my smile.