A little over two months ago I had dental braces fitted. I’m not going to lie, it was the worst weekend I’ve had in forever. Right now, almost twelve weeks later, I’ve already seen a huge difference in my teeth, and I’ve actually got used to my braces. I’ll start at the beginning.
My teeth have always been fairly healthy (a few white fillings here and there, thankfully nothing too much more than that so far), but as a teenager both of my incisors were rotated. My mum and dentist said that braces weren’t necessary, and that because my teeth were symmetrical they didn’t think there was really any need to adjust the teeth, particularly as at that time it was normal to remove perfectly healthy teeth.
This was the late 90s, when having ‘perfect’ teeth wasn’t really a thing. However, I did always feel self conscious, particularly when people mentioned my teeth. For some reason, there are people who think they have the right to comment on other people’s appearance, and comment they did. Things such as “wow, you’ve got fangs”, “you look like a vampire”, and “your teeth!”. Admittedly, they may not have necessarily been negative responses however, being self conscious about my teeth meant I took these comments in a negative way, leaving me feeling even more aware of my rotated teeth.
As the years passed, and the comments came every so often, I would look at my teeth and imagine what it would be like to have straight teeth. Not perfect, but straight. When I was in my twenties, I would even smooth chewing gum over them (DIY veneers, anyone?) and squint my eyes, try to see what I would look like without the jagged profile. In close up pictures I would smile with my mouth closed. I wouldn’t wear lipstick, not even nudes, to avoid drawing attention to my mouth, to my teeth. I didn’t hate my teeth but I was very aware of them looking awkward, but I suppose my smile never bothered me as much as the idea, and cost, of wearing ugly braces for over a year.
And then, it seemed that all of a sudden, somewhere between 2008 and 2011, adults were having work done to straighten their smiles. British celebrities started to mould into clones of their American counterparts thanks to their brand new, diamond white, veneered smiles. And though extreme in some cases, it made braces more acceptable in everyday people reaching for a neater smile. Braces weren’t just for teenagers anymore. Of course, with dental advances and private treatment come subtle braces such as white brackets and Invisalign, but even the most basic of metal braces were less of a surprise among adult smiles.
And so, finally in 2015, I asked my dentist how I might be able to have braces on the NHS. I was told I could be referred to the dental hospital (joined with the University of Dundee’s Dental School) but that the criteria was strict, and it would be unlikely I’d receive free dental work. I prepared for disappointment by having a consultation at Beam Orthodontics in Dundee. Around the same time, my NHS appointment came through for June 2016.
At that first NHS appointment, an extremely successful professor measured my teeth, asked some questions, and told me that I was indeed eligible to have work done. He gave me his recommendations and I went home, delighted. My next appointment came another three months later, in September. I had to postpone the process as I was pregnant and unable to have an x-ray. After our baby was born in January 2017, I received another appointment for March – we picked up where we left off.
My appointment included the x-ray, and 360-degree photos of my face (front-on and profile) and inside my mouth (top and bottom), and the professor then based my treatment on what would get the best results without changing my face drastically, or removing any teeth. (That meant the full works, which are so extreme that he is unable to use me a case study or training for his students.) I agreed that we would go ahead and so, in November 2017, I had my braces fitted.
I had them fitted on a Friday afternoon, and it took around an hour. Metal brackets were placed on each tooth, wires fitted into them, and then two of my bottom teeth were built up with that stuff they use for fillings, so that my top teeth wouldn’t touch my bottom teeth. My mouth was full of metal and concrete (or whatever it is), and felt enormous. The metal brackets were sharp and cut the soft skin of my cheeks to shreds, the wires pulling at my teeth left my jaw and head aching and throbbing. It was a horrible feeling, so I went home and drank a bottle of red wine to dull the pain.
By Saturday afternoon I was taking aspirin/paracetamol every four hours on the dot (Ibuprofen is recommended too, but I can’t take it because of my Ulcerative Colitis), and I wanted to rip the braces off with my own bare hands. If it hadn’t been a weekend, I might well have gone back to the dental hospital to have them taken off. But I stuck it out and by Sunday I felt a bit better, by Monday I was okay. It was uncomfortable but the silicone wax was like gold dust and I stuck it all over the metal to give my cheeks a break. Ten weeks later and I still cover some of the brackets with wax overnight.
That first week I could only eat soup and soft foods. I lost 5lbs, and then I lost another 3lbs. By December, my mouth was comfortable and the only problem was talking, getting my words out around the metal in my mouth. (The silver lining was that I could fit into my Christmas party dress, and I didn’t need to talk as the music was too loud…)
Right after New Year, on 3 January 2018, I had my second appointment; I was dreading it, imagining all sorts of pain, but it was actually fine. The dentist changed one of the brackets and replaced the wire, tightening it up. My mouth ached a little afterwards but nothing in comparison to that first weekend.
Now? It’s been nearly twelve weeks and I’m used to them. I’m less embarrassed to talk and laugh (I’m an adult, I can cope), but eating in public isn’t ideal so I’m generally having soup and bread, with dinner at home where it doesn’t feel like anyone is judging me for having food stuck EVERYWHERE. It’s really quite gross. Sadly, eating is no longer a joy, it’s a necessity. But it’s temporary, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can finally go out wearing an oxblood lipstick and order a big fat cheeseburger. (That day is at least ten more months away, probably more – they estimate that braces should be worn for around 18 months.)
Something worth noting though: in the two months I’ve worn these braces, I’ve seen a massive difference. Both of my rotated incisors have turned, and though they aren’t quite straight, they’re flat alongside my other teeth. My wonky, pushed-back bottom teeth have been drawn out and even though one currently sits a little higher than the others, my teeth are in line. All this, in just two months. I’ve become used to life with braces, and it’s not forever. It’ll be worth it, I can see already, and my goodness, I just know it’s going to be the best cheeseburger ever.
I’d like to note how grateful I am to our National Health Service, not just for my teeth, but for everything they do.