I have a confession to make: I am a full-fledged adult. with. braces.
If you’re wondering… yes, wearing braces is STILL as awkward and embarrassing as it was in your teens. Despite all the technological advancements since my last tango with metal-mouth, braces are still bulky, obvious, painful, and inconveniently dorky. Except now, my peers are all grown up and I’m seemingly the only 30-year-old in the universe wearing them.
Since I’M AN ADULT NOW MOM! I sprang for the fancy ones — they are clear ceramic and supposedly “blend in” with my teeth so as not to scream LOSER ALERT! every time I smile. Unfortunately, these expensive braces were no match for one eagle-eyed 7-year-old I recently met while enjoying a children’s birthday party with my son. “Oh! I see you have braces too! I get mine off in a few months!”, she beamed. Ok you little brat, rub it in.
Actually, I smiled a closed-mouth half smile and conciliated, “We’re braces twins! Yay!”
I might have braces but I’m not a monster. Sheesh.
So, you might be asking, “Why get braces in the first place?” The answer is both simple, and in my case, quite complicated. I didn’t get braces for merely cosmetic purposes; crooked teeth can actually be quite endearing. But orthodontics are also a matter of overall health — an incorrect bite can cause headaches and jaw and muscle strain. It can also cause major dental problems later in life such as uneven wear and chipping, which can cause infections, cavities, and painful extractions. I have what’s called an underbite with asymmetry — it means that my lower jaw does not align properly with my upper jaw, and it also tilts to the right. I had corrective surgery (a mandibular osteotomy) in my late teens to correct the problem which was so severe I could barely eat properly. But, of course, I continued to grow well into my mid-20s and this means my jaw, slowly but surely, found its way out and off to the side again. However, my teeth compensated for this movement, so it wasn’t very obvious to the casual observer — my lower teeth were always behind my upper teeth as they should be. I could deal with this a small cosmetic flaw, right?
That’s when the migraines started.
When I turned 30 I began getting blinding headaches that would come and go. Sometimes they would be accompanied by upper-back and neck pain — always on my right side (the same side as my jaw misalignment). The right side of my jaw would also sometimes painfully POP leaving me with a dull ache that made it difficult to eat. I knew it had to be related to my orthodontic issues.
I resolved to make an appointment with an orthodontist, and this is when I learned both the bad news and the good news.
The Bad News: My problem could not be corrected with simple orthodontics. I’d have to have surgery again.
The Good News: Since this procedure is considered medical and not cosmetic, it is 100% covered by my French insurance besides the extra costs for the fancy ceramic braces. Yay socialized medicine!
After consulting with the hubby about what we were going to do and the logistics of everything, we decided to go ahead with the lengthy process of orthodontics, and subsequent major oral surgery. The first few days after getting my brand spanking new ceramic braces I thought, “Oh dear god, I’ve made a huge mistake”. First of all, I felt like an idiot. I could barely speak, my cheeks puffed up like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter, and I could not eat a thing without pain radiating through my face. Living in the land of milk and honey (or wine and baguette as it were), this felt like a colossal loss.
Soon enough, however, the pain subsided and the minor swelling went away. But unfortunately, the embarrassment that comes with being an adult braces-wearer remained. Do you even know how hard it is to eat quinoa with these things? Quinoa didn’t even exist when I was 16 years old. How the hell am I expected to do brunch? Forget a casual working lunch. Kale? Yeah right.
There’s a scene in the show Sex & the City where Miranda gets braces to help with her “tongue thrusting” issue. She goes on a date and ends up with a big, embarrassing chunk of lettuce in her braces. In the end, she decides to take off the braces figuring she can live with being a tongue thruster but not with being a single woman in her 30s. Luckily, I’m already married so at least that problem is resolved, but it’s hard enough being taken seriously in the professional world as a 5-foot nothing woman. Let alone with braces. Let alone with kale stuck in my teeth.
So I march on with my head held high and my mouth shut. I’ve become an expert in ‘smizing’. I am about halfway through the total process and my surgery is set to be scheduled for November of this year. Then I will continue with corrective orthodontics for an additional 4-6 months. Yipee. The upside of it all? Having your mouth wired shut for a month does wonders to lose baby weight! Silver lining, y’all!
Overall, it’s been a real practice in humility to be an adult with braces. Sometimes, I see the flash of a fellow metal-mouth on the subway. We’ll catch each other’s eye and I imagine we’re both thinking the same thing: “What are you looking at, nerd?”