Sunday, July 13, 2014

And I must let the show go on...

Hi there.

First, if you’re reading this, I owe you an apology. I know that I have committed the biggest sin in blogging by letting mine drop for—not just weeks, but months! So, first of all, I’m sorry to have been neglectful. I could offer up several reasons, but they’ll only sound like excuses.

Second, in my absence, I have had a bit of an epiphany. I have come to understand that having braces at my age is something like having a late-life baby. Here’s why.

I finally thought I had things figured out (as you do once your kids are out of diapers, walking on their own, entertaining themselves and eventually, moving out to begin supporting themselves). What I had figured out were things like: What role do I play in a meeting at work? What do I like to order when we eat out? And other basics, such as: What do I do with my face when I meet someone new? Well, of course you don’t think about those things anymore—neither did I! But now I must re-think them all. And I have readjusted. Just as one would if they were to have another child after those aforementioned darlings have moved on.

I’ve never been the most confident person; painfully shy in high school, it has always been an effort for me to “put myself out there.” Raising two children to adulthood and years of experience have contributed to me worrying a lot less about a lot of things. But now I am worrying again.

At the end of May, I went to New York City to promote my book and was—horror of horrors—asked to sit for a videotaped interview about the book and my writing process. I knew I had to make it happen, but I was extremely self-conscious, whereas had the interview been conducted just six months earlier, I could have actually relaxed! The resulting video is one that I hope never to view again; not because I said too many stupid things, but because of how my face looks as I try to talk around my braces.

However, I also know this: we are all our worst critics, so while all I see as just plain horrid, others, who don’t know me well or at all, probably won’t even notice. (Please don’t let them notice!) In the meantime, in terms of comfort, I hardly notice my braces these days…which can only mean that I’m due for a wire-tightening any day now—at which point, the achy, sore, tender, liquid diet phase begins again for a few weeks. I can hardly believe it’s been only five months since I started this process, but that’s five months I won’t have to repeat!
Going Straight

Living means taking chances, and I’ve taken several this year. As it turns out, you can teach an old (or older) dog new tricks—and the dog can have fun learning! Even if it does take a bit of courage. And speaking of old dogs; can anyone guess what song this blog’s title comes from?

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Yeah, it's like that--only not nearly as cute.
My third visit to the orthodontist produced new, longer, tighter wires. Having been warned by nearly everyone that “tightening” visits were the bane of brace wearers, I was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt when I left the office. I was the lucky one for whom tightening was no big deal! Instead, conditions in my mouth were much better. No longer did I have wires that stopped half-way to the back of my mouth, waiting to gaff my cheeks like fish the minute I let my guard down. The rubber bumpers that kept me from biting on the bottom front braces (and also kept my teeth from meeting) were also gone. Everything seemed smooth and manageable all the way around. Finally, I could see what people meant when they said, “Pretty soon, you won’t even know you have braces on.” 

Four hours later, my lower front teeth finally felt the vice-like grip of the new wire and I understood what people were talking about. The pressure was intense (though slightly alarming, I’m not sure I’d give it an eight, like my niece did—maybe a six and a half). Fortunately, a few Advil did the trick and once again I was feeling good about things.

A day later, I got another surprise. I could neither bite with my front teeth nor chew with my molars—well, I could, but it my front teeth felt weak and loose and my molars were sore. So, back to soft food and drinks for a while. Some of the sore spots in my mouth have changed places and certain spots just won't toughen up. Though everyone I talk to recommends wax, I have yet to get it to work--it doesn't seem to stick where I want it to and invariably ends up falling off soon after I put it on. I put it in the "contact lens" category--something that everyone else I know can manage, but that's simply beyond me. One thing that gives me relief is puffing up my cheeks blowfish style. I just need to remember that it's kind of a strange thing to do while I'm at work.

During this latest appointment, the doctor pointed out a tooth my dentist should look at—a possible crown candidate.
Fortunately, it’s work that can be done with the braces on. That should be interesting. I do hope I'm not spending thousands on teeth that aren't even going to stick with me once they're straight! 

So, onward. A little discomfort and a lot of "inarticulation," which, while embarrassing, is nothing I can't deal with. The weeks fly by! It doesn't seem possible that the big holes my pulled teeth left will ever be filled. I look forward to that, but there's so much else to look forward to in between!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Historically Speaking

Would it surprise you to know that braces, in some form, have been around since ancient times? We're talking hundreds of years BC. Mummified remains have been found with wires in their mouths, possibly to prevent teeth and faces from caving in on themselves in the afterlife. And men like Aristotle were applying their considerable brainpower to thinking of ways to correct dental problems. In the 1700s, Pierre Fauchard established the groundwork for much of the dentistry and orthodontics that we're familiar with today.

With the past couple of weeks being relatively uneventful in terms of my own orthodontic journey, I thought a bit of history might be fun. I assumed that braces had been around for a while, but I really didn't think I'd find people concerned with straightening teeth quite so long ago. They probably weren't going for the perfection we hope for today; I'm imagining it was more about seeing to the more serious health issues that arise from major dental malformations. However, Fauchard's work seems to indicate that he could well have been behind some of the more dazzling smiles of his time.

Despite his progress, I can't help thinking that as frightening as it can be to have some of today's dental tools approach your mouth (I usually look away), the tools of the trade in the 1700s would have been even more disconcerting. My hunch is supported by the fact that urine was used to help fight caries (dental decay) back then--the ammonia in it being the active ingredient. Fortunately for us, they've found other methods for preventing and treating cavities.

I find it impressive that Fauchard, back in his time, was figuring out methods for tooth restoration, the need for fillings (albeit sometimes employing lead), the benefits of regular dental cleanings and that children's teeth are more quickly and easily moved because of their more shallow roots. This was a time when some still believed that tooth decay was caused by tooth worms. (Actually, some still believe it. If you really want to be horrified, Google tooth worms and read about these delightful--and thankfully unreal--creatures!)

No doubt, in the not-too-distant future, people will look back on current methods as "positively medieval," a sentiment that I can't completely disagree with even now, but I do appreciate the improvements made so far. I'm still five weeks away from my first tightening appointment (which my 14-year-old niece informed me would be about an 8 on a pain scale of 1-10 but wouldn't last long; that seems a little high to me, especially since she said it like it was no big thing; but she's been through it and I have not, so we'll see). In the meantime, I'm happy to report that my teeth are already straighter than they were--so medieval or not, it's working!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Week 4, in Which I Learn (at Least) 3 Things

One: I think I know what "Wite Out" tastes like. 

Two: a friend found the perfect T-shirt on Imgur:

Three: "mobile" is a term used not only for phones and work stations but also for teeth. 

Wite Out: that's the aftertaste of the fluoride treatment I got at the dentist last week. I've never actually tasted Wite Out. (Which, for anyone who's under 30 or has never used a typewriter--what's a typewriter? Oh, forget it. But Wite Out is the stuff once used to paint over mistakes on paper. Before there was such a thing as a delete button. Before "undo" was possible. I know all this because I am a late-life brace wearer.) So no, I've never tasted Wite Out, but I've smelled it often enough, and now I think I know what it would taste like.

I wasn't anxious to have sharp tools in my mouth, which is finally feeling somewhat better. Other than a couple of spots inside my upper lip (a little roll of gauze gives it a break at night), I'm now pain free 99% of the time. But my inquiries revealed that yes, I should I keep my appointment. Not only that but it's recommended for brace-wearers to visit the dentist more often. More joy! It turned out to be a typical appointment and my fears were calmed until the hygienist found an exposed area on a tooth next to my most troublesome extraction site. I was done. She told me my dentist (sister) would probably want to remove the troublesome buildup when she saw it. I told her, "No, she won't--not without a needle full of anesthetic!" In the end, no one went near it again. 

And the awful-tasting fluoride? I get to experience this at every visit until the braces are off. It's sticky and awful-tasting (yes, like Wite Out) and it's painted on at the end of the appointment. After I assiduously avoided the horrid stuff with my tongue the whole time she was painting it on, the hygienist told me to "lick all around it" to make it bond. Really? Then, no hot drinks or brushing for six hours. And the aftertaste. Just plain awful.

The T-shirt speaks for itself: hilarious.

And what are mobile teeth? Just that: they're teeth on the move. Some of my teeth feel like they're going to just fall out. Luckily, they're being held in by these little pieces of metal. I think I mentioned dreaming of my teeth coming out in an earlier blog. According to dream interpreters, this is supposed to mean the dreamer is concerned about things happening that are out of their control. In my case, I think it means I'm worried my teeth might fall out. Of course I know they need to move--that's the whole point. But it never occurred to me they'd be so loose while they were at it. I've been told not to worry. It's normal. Especially for someone my age. All-righty then. They just had to go there...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Wider World of Wire

I'm exactly three weeks into metal mouth mania (only three weeks!!): my face has gotten tougher, my gums have only one tender spot and it's come to my attention that I may not be the only one to have chosen mid-life orthodontia. 

Okay, of course I knew I had company. But while I was busy sharing my experience in the hope that it could entertain and perhaps help someone else make the decision, it hadn't occurred to me to look around to see what others had reported. Did you know that later-life brace wearing is an actual trend? It only makes sense--while we're tummy tucking, face lifting, botoxing and much more, why not straighten our teeth, too? 

What I found when I first looked up from my own mouth and peeked into others was frightening. I read comments about weak teeth (post braces), regret, thousands of wasted dollars. People wanted to know why their orthodontist hadn't warned them that older gums heal slowly--perhaps never completely. I read about patients who were treated like children--patronized, with their questions ignored. And finally, happily, I read about the success stories. At ArchWired, an entire site dedicated to mid-life braces, you can read a well-documented blog and see lots of teeth in every stage of the process. (About twenty photos in, I knew I'd made the right life choice in not becoming a dentist! That was my sister's dream and she's very good at it.)

My teeth do feel loose, and in a dream the other night that I reached up and simply pulled one out. Clearly, there are concerns running amok in my unconscious mind. In truth, there are more than a few running amok in my conscious mind as well. I have learned that I could have (perhaps should have?) asked a lot more questions, such as, "Will I need headgear or other appliances?" Lord, I certainly hope not! Rather, I assumed they would tell me all I needed to know. I did consult with two different orthodontists--about twenty years apart--and the outcome was the same: no Invisalign, years of treatment, hefty price tag.

I was pleased to learn that I'm not the wimpiest or the whiniest older brace-wearer out there (yes!), but compared to kids, we adults as a whole are definitely less willing to deal with the down side. Is it because we're paying for it? Or because we're used to having some control? Whatever it is, I have to remember that I asked for them. And they're the only route to straight teeth. It's a "first-world" kind of problem, I know. 

But I'm not here to compare life's challenges--I'm here to talk (teeth) turkey. So until next time, please sip soup, crunch a carrot or bite a bagel for me!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Day 13

First, the good news: 
Of the 10-12 pounds I put on over the past few years and have been trying to shed, I have lost 4. This is encouraging, and I'm hoping I can continue the trend and get back to my "happy" weight.

Also, every once in a while, for a few minutes at a time, in spite of everything that you're about to read, I can see that it will be possible to "get used to" having braces as everyone has told me I will.

Now for the rest of it:
I've become completely self-involved and preoccupied with my mouth. When I'm not thinking about how to make it feel better, I'm thinking about how not to think about it. The problem is, I'm a worrier. Not in the sense that I worry about things, but in the sense that I worry things. As in Merriam Webster's third definition of the word: "to touch or disturb something repeatedly." I've always known this about myself; I can't leave things alone, like, say, scabs, tender areas, hangnails, unusual bumps. So you can see what might happen with a mouthful of loose teeth and sore spots. As much as I know on an intellectual level that it would be best if I could just let things rest, I can't stop using my lips and tongue to push my teeth back and forth, in and out. Whenever I realize I'm doing it, I stop; next thing I know, I'm doing it again. I don't know how noticeable this behavior is to others, although my partner, Peter, has at least once told me to stop. I'm working on it.

Because I avoid moving my mouth too much and my enunciation is less than flawless, I've been talking less--at home and at work. At least one co-worker has decried my "lack of snark," noticeable because snarky comments, which once came so easily, turn out to be less than essential communication. I do need to be careful not to let my silence convey disinterest or lack of engagement in meetings. I'm sure it's only temporary.

I have now tried almost everything to protect the inside of my mouth from the sharp edges while I sleep, all with different levels of failure--and all of which I accept as my own lack of experience and skill, especially when others make it sound so simple; e.g., "I just used wax."

Wax--epic fail: the places where I most need wax are situated next to the gaps left by my extracted premolars, so even if I get the wax situated securely in the right place (big if), it invariably ends up falling through one of these gaps and into my mouth within minutes.

Gauze: while effective at protecting the insides of my face, it irritates my gums and keeps my mouth from closing. It can also get tangled in the sharp edges it's there to cover, so removing it threatens to pull or break things. And it's gross, but I can deal with that.

Foam tubes (purchased at a fly-fishing shop--seemed like a good idea at the time): failed because there is nothing to hold them over the braces. They ended up slipping high up into my gum area and providing no protection at all.

While I struggle with these options, my mouth is toughening up to protect itself, but it'll be a while before I have actual callouses. Like the callouses developed on my other end during prolonged biking tours, these will no doubt be both off-putting and much welcomed.

Eating remains more of a necessity than a pleasure because my front teeth are too tender to bite efficiently, the molars I still have don't meet for proper chewing (held apart because the braces on my lower incisors hit the back of my upper incisors) and any food with an edge (would you believe cucumbers have edges??) can be tough on the extraction sites.

So how do I feel about it all right now? If I even had the option to reconsider, I'd be 49% inclined to get my premolars back, ditch the metal and be happy with my imperfect but serviceable smile. But that leaves 51% of me that wants to see it through, 51% that is looking forward, like a kid on Christmas morning, to the reveal--the unwrapping of my gift to myself--a perfectly straight row of teeth. It's really going to be something to smile about.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wired for Love

Good news! Romance is still possible, even with half your face enmeshed in metal. 

At least it is if your other half is as supportive and loving as mine. If he doesn't get tired of my whining and leave me (a distinct possibility as, since I began this experiment, I, who always thought of myself as tough--hey, two huge (sorry, Sara) naturally delivered babies without the help of drugs, right?--I have become unable to deal with this achy-gummed, sore-jawed, cut- lipped, sore-cheeked existence without carping about it regularly, no matter how I try, and I am trying!), I believe his positive outlook and sense of humor is what will help me through the next 23 months or so.

Last night we had an unplanned early Valentine's Day dinner, running through the storm (as the sidewalks were not cleared, we found ourselves out in the road with plows threatening to bury us alive in the snowbanks--perhaps not our brightest plan) to a nearby Italian restaurant where we found ourselves and one other couple the only customers. Biting isn't fun and my molars don't meet so heavy chewing is out. We split a warm, wilted escarole and goat cheese salad which I followed with skinny spaghetti and tender spicy sausage; the perfect choice for my dinner. Pete had wood-smoked scallops on cheesy ravioli. Enio's on Cottage Road--stop by and try it sometimes if you haven't yet!

So, how does it feel four days in? Everything above aside, it is getting better. My gums are getting tougher so they don't throb after I eat. And I'm learning, I guess, how to accept the braces as a part of me. Tooth brushing is interesting--at this point, I would not want anyone to witness that debacle, which includes a lot of drooling and funny-face making, but I'm assuming I'll get better at this also.

I'll be posting at milestones and when I have new experiences worth sharing--visiting Pete's family this weekend promised to be a trove of embarrassing situations but we decided to wait for better weather, so those stories will have to wait, too.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
Chew the heck out of some dark-chocolate-covered caramels for me!