What began as a hopeful, optimistic notion with the promise of perfect teeth turned into a five-year, on-off torture of my dear teeth. They say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but that’s inaccurate. After withstanding three rounds of braces, I can declare that what doesn’t kill you will keep coming back until it eventually does kill you. Bloody gums, scratched enamel, and metal instruments fit for a mad scientist: this is what you’re in for.
When you’re first told that you’re getting braces, the sheer idea will elicit joy. Fitting in is the ultimate victory for any seventh grader, and since all of your friends’ teeth are locked in metal cages, too, you’re on the right track. Nonetheless, prepare yourself with plenty of Tylenol, GoGo Squeez applesauce pouches, and Oral-B Superfloss. Say farewell to snacking on peanut brittle, eating corn on the cob, and biting into a crunchy Red Delicious. With braces, not only will your teeth be confined, but your food options will also be severely limited.
The first time you step into the orthodontist's office for the consultation, you’ll likely feel excited as you enter the unknown. My best advice is to curb this enthusiasm because he will tell you that your crooked incisors and slight overbite are the centerpiece of the most gnarled and deformed mouth he’s ever seen. Your mother will listen intently as your orthodontist presents his nine-month plan. At this time, the prospect of braces won’t seem so dreadful; however, the next nine months will be an eternity. “A smile is worth everything,” he will say as he bares his perfect chalk-white teeth and pockets thousands of dollars from your parents’ wallet.
The day you show up for your first appointment is the day you enter purgatory. On this day, the sky is sure to be bleak, and as you walk into the office, you’ll feel a shiver run down your spine. You will be greeted by the receptionist who will somehow always be grinning as she welcomes you into the gates of hell. Shortly after, the dental assistant will call your name and direct you to the farthest dental chair that has stuffing overflowing from its ripped seams. You will be asked to select a color for your elastic bands from a palette of neons and metallics. It doesn’t matter what color you pick because they’re all ugly. In fact, go ahead and pick the putrid yellow, or even better, pick colors that correspond to the upcoming holiday: red and green for Christmas; red and pink for Valentine’s Day; red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July.
The process of actually getting the braces on will be painstakingly slow and immensely distressing. Your mouth will be stretched open with plastic clamps; the suction wand will dry out your mouth faster than a drought, and your teeth will be polished with an acrid, clear paint supposedly meant to protect them. During this time, beg the higher powers for mercy—you’re going to need it because you’re in it for the long haul once the brackets are cemented to your teeth.
The first glimpse of yourself in braces might be startling, and you may mistake your braces for a grill. However, your mouth is not wired in sterling silver, not encrusted in 14-karat gold and diamonds. Initially, the sensation of metal on your teeth will be odd, and guaranteed, you will run your tongue over your teeth a million and a half times. In a few hours, the real pain will begin (as if everything up to this point wasn’t painful enough). The elastic hooks—meant for attaching your rubber bands—will start digging into the flesh of your mouth. Use wax if needed, but remember to remove the wax before eating your pureed steak at dinner. In addition to the stakes poking at your lips, you will also experience soreness in your gums; soothe this ache with an ice pack pressed gently on the lower half of your face. This ache will last for the first week of your adventure unlike the jabbing, which will thankfully only last a few days.
Throughout your time with braces, make sure to follow these unofficial rules to enhance your experience. Do chew gum and eat popcorn and crunch on ice because the chances of cracking brackets or loosening wires after eating these types of food are slim. Plus, there’s no reason to deprive yourself of your favorite foods during this already sensitive time. Don’t be that person who doesn’t floss. Not only do you risk having last night’s dinner caked into your teeth, but flossing is also one of those ‘good habits’—a task that everyone should do but doesn’t. Do schedule your appointments during school hours. Savor the drive to and from the orthodontist’s office along with the non-negotiable pit stop at Starbucks. Finally, don’t succumb to the urge to rip off your braces with the pair of rusty pliers in the garage. You risk doing serious damage to crooked but otherwise healthy teeth.
It may seem that the orthodontist is prolonging your time in braces just to see you suffer, but the day you get your braces removed also means a new set of responsibilities and misery. Although your removable retainer gives you a partial lisp, you must wear it because it is the most effective way to ensure you never have to repeat the nightmare you just escaped. You may think your teeth will never shift, but take it from me—a three-time braces champ—you’re never safe.