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Brace Yourself - My Unfinished Quest for the Perfect Smile

By Electra B.

I remember the nerve-wracking day, when I went to the orthodontist and found out what I had to go through to straighten my “oh-so-crooked” teeth. Torture, constant pain, metal-mouth – these all were what I imagined braces would be like. I thought getting them would be a nightmare – big, bulky, and hideous. I cried when driving to the orthodontist; in fact, I could not even eat breakfast that morning. As I look back now, I realize that I am the one who ruined my thoughts about the whole situation. I think to myself and remember how childish I was to have thought that what I know now to be a three-phase plan was that bad; especially since I have friends who are going through a six-phase plan. This is my adventure with braces in my quest for the perfect smile.

There are several types of bite problems: spacing (too much room), crowding (no room at all!), open bite (top of teeth don’t meet bottom), overbite (top teeth come far above bottom), cross bite (teeth do not match up from top to bottom), under bite (bottom is above the top teeth), over jet (also known as buck teeth), abnormal eruption (one or two teeth that just go wild). I had a cross bite and one tooth that was an abnormal eruption (I confess, I was a pacifier sucker!). I had an extra problem – a palate that was too small for my very nice new (but much bigger) teeth!!

I am now in my final phase of dental orthodontics; and the first two were not that bad. In my plan, there were three: Phase I – blue rubber spacers to make gaps for a palatal expander on the top and the bottom; Phase II – palatal expanders on top and bottom for about six months; and Phase III – clear (which are really ceramic/tooth-colored) braces on the top, and metal-bracketed braces on the bottom. Why? My Ortho and I chose to use ceramic on the top because it is less noticeable (however, much more expensive) and the traditional metal on the bottom (since I have a cross bite issue) and using ceramics on the bottom may damage my top teeth from the bite correction. I still have the palatal expanders on top and bottom during the process to ensure that the work done before stays in place. Wow, I look like a mouth full of hardware!

The worst part of my process was when everything was new and unknown. The Orthodontist put the blue rubber spacers in the very beginning, and my gums bled... and I cried. The reason that this is so awful is because I faint from the taste of blood – which is shocking because I want to be a scientist! Here is how the procedure works: the blue orthodontic rubber bands make room between the molars; when this process is completed (a few weeks), metal bands that look like a handcuffs are cemented on the rear molars and hold the palatal expander in place. My dad calls it the instrument of torture. The palatal expander is put on the top of the mouth (or bottom, or both) to widen the palate. This allows a crowded mouth to straighten naturally. To help this process, there is a key that fits in the expanders’ keyhole that must be cranked every specified day to continue correcting the mouth’s spacing.

After this process that takes a few to several months, the braces are applied with cement on your permanent teeth. A thin metal wire called the arch wire is formed and snapped into all of the brackets, and held there with rubber bands of the patient’s color choice. Braces work even while the patient is not at the orthodontist’s office because the arch wire is heat-sensitive – when the wire is crooked, and warms with the patient’s body heat, the wire keeps a memory of being a straight arch, and moves back to its original form. This is monitored every few months by the orthodontist to ensure it is following its desired form. After anywhere from three months to six years (depending upon the severity of the problem), the braces are removed. Done... or are you?

This problem is long-term. You have to choose a future plan. What does that mean? Since the teeth moved once, they can move again. That is a scary thought. I definitely would NOT like to have braces twice in my life. My Grandmother is 59 and had to get braces again. My aunt is 39 and the orthodontist is recommending her to get braces as she had when she was 16. When one has braces, to prevent teeth from moving back in the future, they must have support – a retainer that is - either permanent, or nightly. The option for some cases is a night retainer (a metal supported guard that you put in at night, and take out in the morning); but that type of retainer is high maintenance for cleaning; can be lost or forgotten – which can cause the need for braces again (as in my Grandmother’s case). The other option is to have a permanent retainer attached inside the mouth. This is easy, since it does not have to be remembered each night, however, it does require more cleaning, as well as yearly checking to ensure that the patient’s teeth are staying properly aligned.

I have had my braces on for a month now, and my smile is completely different! My teeth have straightened a considerable amount since the beginning of my journey. Before, my teeth were coming out of my ears! My parents joked that they were, “Directional teeth – East, South North, and West ”. They were everywhere, but now, in only a short time, my smile is something to remember... instead of something to forget. One day, I will be able to look in the mirror and say to myself, “What a nice smile!” Thank you for learning on this journey with me!

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