My First Day in Braces

experiences of ArchWired readers

 Sarah from the USA (Living in China)


I finally did it--I got braces! This is a decision I've been pondering for a few years, on and off, and I'm not sure what made me take the plunge this year, but I'm so glad I did. A brief history: in addition to some very annoying and unsightly crowding, I have what's called an "open bite," which means that when my back teeth are completely closed, my top front teeth do not reach my bottom teeth. As a young teen, I went to an orthodontist shortly after my family's return from Germany. He made the mistake of telling me that I would have to have teeth pulled and that braces would be "purely cosmetic"--not only is this not true (more on that later), but it also grated against what my mother describes as my "flower child mentality" at the time. Having just turned 13 in a region of the world where braces were at the time less common than they are in the U.S., I was nonplussed--I didn't want anybody butchering my mouth. I figured, even at my young age, that it was a waste of money.

Fast forward 13 years later, and I'm standing in front of the bathroom mirror with yet another strand of dental floss, trying desperately to clean my ever-more-crowded bottom teeth. Something clicks, and I'm suddenly sick of it. I make an appointment with an orthodontist recommended to me by another American teacher here in China, whose daughter recently got braces. I like him immediately--he's very calm and informative--and when he sees my open bite, he tells me that there are many benefits to correcting this bite problem, not to mention the crowding. If left untreated, an open bite can lead to chewing and swallowing problems, even TMJ. Not so "purely cosmetic" after all (though I'm of course excited about the aesthetics too)! Plus, I've never been able to bite into sushi or shear off lettuce from a sandwich, and I want to know what it feels like for my top teeth to touch my bottom ones. I'm hooked!

In Asia, a commonly used treatment to fix open bites, rather than the complex oral surgery so common in the west, is called the "multiloop edgewise" wire. It's a complicated looking wire when you pull your lips back, but otherwise you can't really see it any more than you can a normal wire. According to my orthodontist, who comes from the Philippines, the reason this therapy has taken off in Asia as opposed to elsewhere in the world is that Asians have a much greater tendency toward open bites and Class 3 malocclusions (a particular type of jaw deformity). In the west, open bites are far less common. Naturally, Asian orthodontists would be more likely to seek non-surgical corrections for this problem if so many of their patients experience it. Relinquishing the myth that western medicine is the only kind you can trust, I decided to go with this less invasive approach and see what it can do. I'll be on the multiloop wire until June, and will then go back to a conventional wire that is used in all parts of the world. My orthodontist believes that by June, when I leave Shanghai, my open bite could be almost completely closed if all goes well. He suspects that all in all, my treatment will take 1.5-2 years. He made an extensive powerpoint detailing my treatment options, and after going through it with me and answering my questions, we started with the braces.

Getting the braces put on was a very uncomfortable process, mostly because I had to lie flat on my back the whole time, and my back still hurt from a really wild basketball game I had played two nights earlier. However, the sensation I felt when it was all done trumped any lingering discomfort in my back. It wasn't so much painful as supremely bizarre. The image that immediately came to mind was a bucket of rocks dumped into my mouth. I felt like I could barely close my lips. Eating was interesting--my husband took me to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, where I ordered dumpling soup. Few foods are as benign as dumpling soup, but even this posed challenges for me. I tried chewing but couldn't feel the food actually getting chewed, so I sort of just "timed" the chewing and figured eventually it was safe to swallow. I kept feeling that food was stuck in every tooth, so as soon as we finished eating I rushed to the restroom and rinsed my mouth out 3 or 4 times. I was horrified even after this process to find a stubborn piece of tofu wedged in one of my bottom braces. Ew! After arriving back home, I rushed past our cat without giving him his customary cuddle, and spent the next 5 minutes at the bathroom sink with a toothbrush and mouthwash. Somehow, I think I'll be spending a lot of time there over the next 2 years...

I woke up in the middle of the night with a lot of pain in my teeth, so I ended up taking 2 Tylenol and they feel much better today. It's really interesting to go through this process in Asia. I really respect the Eastern approach to medicine--it tends to be less aggressive. For example, in addition to the non-surgical, non-extraction solution for an open bite, my orthodontist mentioned that I would feel some pain in the next few days. "It's completely normal; it doesn't mean something's wrong with your teeth," he said. "You don't have to take any medicine." Americans tend to be pill-poppers, and while this isn't always a bad thing, it did occur to me--yeah, I guess I don't HAVE to take medicine. Medicine is for when you're sick or something's wrong, and that's not the case with me. I just have braces, and the pain is normal, and eventually it will pass." Now, I'm totally pro-Tylenol, and I sure was glad to have it in the middle of the night, but I also realize I don't need to depend on it.

I have clear ceramic braces on my top 6 teeth, from canine to canine, and the rest are metal brackets. Matthew described my braces as "anticlimactic." Though there's a big discrepancy between how they look (ho-hum, who cares? Lots of people have braces, and the clear ones aren't very noticeable) and how they feel (help! Somebody knocked me in the face with a baseball bat and stuffed my mouth full of glass shards!), he's right-- ultimately, braces are no big deal. I even talked with some of my students about it on Friday--for 45 minutes, we shared braces stories, braces fears, braces woes. Two of them have braces already, and all of them offered sympathy. In a way, teenagers are a great group to work with if you're getting braces. Most of them know what it's like. My closest girlfriends here gushed over me when they first saw me--"awww, you look so cute!" they squealed. "Cute" might be a bit of an overstatement, but I definitely feel that I've done something good for my health and my appearance, and I'm happy I had the courage to go through with it.

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