Sunday, January 16, 2011

Braces Off!

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This column first ran in the newspapers summer 2010.

Addy got the good news her braces would come off in early June.

It is such a momentous occasion, Addy’s orthodontist schedules a day every six weeks strictly for his patients who are having their hardware removed. We were both thrilled.

For me it meant fewer orthodontist trips and the end of buying soft mushy foods every six weeks. For Addy it meant lots more—including bypassing the minor pain that followed every check-up.

I never required braces and didn’t know the ‘after-braces-off’ routine. I had heard people wore retainers, but I had no idea what was required. Before Addy’s big day, we had other adults tell us about their experiences.

Our home renovations guy said he never wore his retainer. After a period of time—a short period—his teeth changed position again. All that time, money, and discomfort wasted.

We had heard more stories in the weeks leading up to her visit. Those who failed to wear the retainer had good reasons. “Didn’t like it.” Or, “I forgot.” An excuse often repeated—“I lost my retainer and never replaced it.”

In an on-line account, Rachel says: “When I got my braces off during my junior year of high school, I was ecstatic. After three long years in metal, I finally had the smile I wanted.”

Then things went downhill for Rachel: “After a while, it got to be a hassle. I was tired of digging through the garbage in the cafeteria after accidentally throwing out my retainer. I hated how icky it got if it wasn't washed frequently. It made me talk and look really weird. A couple of months after I stopped wearing my retainer, I slipped it on for curiosity's sake. My teeth felt like someone was squeezing them with pliers — it was so painful, I had to take it off right away. You would think warning bells would go off, but I didn't think any more of it.”

Rachel ignored the signs. She ended up with a smile that resembled the one she started with in the first place. A smile she now called, “Ugly.”

While I was waiting for Addy to emerge braceless, a former colleague of mine entered the waiting room. She smiled at me with a mouth full of plastics and wires. She, too, had failed to wear the retainer after the first time round, now was back to do it all again. “I have to wear these at least one more year,” she said. “I won’t neglect wearing the retainer this round.”

While waiting for the unveiling, I read a collection of stories, some comical and some exaggerated, written by patients of the doctor. Time after time, the sad tales all explained why the retainer had been lost or damaged. How much does it cost to replace one? About $100.

Addy had a chance to see and hear firsthand what would happen if she didn’t follow the orthodontist’s instructions, and the stories gave me lots of ammunition. Yes, I stooped so low as to threaten Addy. “If we ever had to do it again, you’re paying for it!” The same goes for a lost retainer.

Addy needs to wear her retainer for 10 to 12 hours in a 24-hour period for up to two years. After that, she’ll still need to wear a retainer, but the schedule is less draconian.

So far, so good. The retainer is being worn regularly and so far it hasn’t been lost. She’s only been braceless for less than a month. Time will tell us how this drama will play out.

Allyn Evans

P.S. She did end up swallowing the lower wire retainer and we have since switched to the same as for the upper teeth. And, as of this posting...she's still wearing her retainers!