These days, it’s common for the majority of pre-teens and teenagers to have braces or some kind of orthodontia to straighten their teeth. I’d wager there are many more young adults who have had braces than who haven’t, especially in countries like the US where straight teeth are clearly the ideal, and dentists are eager to refer kids to orthodontists if their teeth are even the tiniest bit out of whack, even if it’s not medically necessary.
I am one of those teenagers who had braces, but my experience with them was different than most. I had a bit of crowding in my top middle teeth, but rather than referring me to an orthodontist, my dentist offered to give me braces at a discount if he did them for me. My parents were eager to save some cash on the expensive procedure, and they trusted my longtime, smallish-town dentist to get the job done right.
Rather than giving me a full mouth of braces, my dentist placed braces only on the teeth he thought needed it – the eight teeth in the top middle part of my mouth. Because of this, I dealt with wires snagging the insides of my lips constantly, but hey, like anything else, you get used to it. My dentist seemed to know what he was doing, and he gave me bright colored rubber bands, which is important to a 16-year-old. I wore my braces for about a year, then was fitted with a retainer.
At first, my teeth were straighter. I wore my retainer faithfully for a few months, then sporadically for a few more, before I stopped wearing it entirely. Yes, you know where this story is going. My teeth eventually shifted back to their original uneven position. Here’s the thing, though – my dentist never explained to teenage me how important wearing my retainer was. It seems obvious now, but I didn’t understand that the effect of the braces wasn’t permanent if I didn’t keep wearing my retainer. So there’s problem #1.
Problem #2? Well, since my teeth have shifted back to being uneven, I’ve had additional orthodontic consultations. Turns out there isn’t just a problem with my top middle teeth – my entire bite is off. There’s no way my eight braces could have truly fixed my issues fully, even if it did make my front teeth appear straighter. Even if I had been diligent with my retainer, there would still be problems that need fixing. I should point out here that my dentist was successfully sued for malpractice just a few years after he did my braces. It was major vindication, but small comfort.
So here I am, an adult with crooked teeth. And, as much as I try to ignore it, I can’t help but feel extremely insecure about it. There is a stigma with having crooked teeth, whether we openly acknowledge it or not. I’m always self conscious about smiling for photos, and I worry that my first impression on people is skewed by my teeth. I hate to be so hung up on a superficial thing, but it’s hard when I so rarely encounter other people with crooked teeth like mine. It’d be one thing if they were just a little crooked…crooked in that slightly imperfect and endearing way. But sadly that is not the case, and I can’t seem to get over it.
As I mentioned, I’ve looked into additional orthodontic treatment to fix the issues. I’d love to try something like Invisalign, but braces and Invisalign are comparable in price, and both are quite expensive, especially if you’re an adult. Insurance companies are much more likely to cover a significant chunk of the cost for braces or Invisalign on kids, but you’re lucky to get even a couple hundred dollars toward them if you’re over 18. Even if I use a provider with a generous payment plan option, I’m still looking at $200+ a month. It feels selfish to add $200 to monthly costs for what is ultimately a superficial procedure, especially when there are more pressing things like rent and student loans to pay.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will probably never get my teeth fixed, but that doesn’t make it easier to live with. So here’s my point: if you’ve been recommended orthodontic treatment, or maybe have had braces but are slacking with your retainer usage, take action. Visit an orthodontist for a treatment plan. Make a point to pop in that retainer at night. If you’re an adult who has considered orthodontia and can afford it, make an appointment and get the process rolling. Trust me when I say it will be worth it and you will regret it if you don’t. It is no fun to be self-conscious about your smile.