#4: Headgear Hell
Dave from New York City, NY, USA
Nobody grows up dreaming of wearing headgear. Nobody even
has nightmares of wearing headgear, either. They always figure
that it’ll happen to someone else, or that modern dentistry
will come up with some new fangled device to end this form of
suffering on the “straight tooth challenged” population.
And even if I DID need it, like Trix, this sort of thing is
After my softball accident last summer, I figured that the
WORST case scenario would be to wear braces. I was wrong! Even
after facing the fact that I needed headgear as part of my
treatment, I still figured that I’d just not wear it and kid
myself into thinking I was being an adult. Here is my story...
While I have been told to wear the headgear “as much as
possible, preferably 24/7”, I figured that wearing it to
sleep would be a great start, particularly for someone who was
going to cheat the whole time anyway. I figured I could always
work up from “total slacker” to just “mildly
disobedient” patient. It all started normal. I put the
headgear on before bed. First morning I woke up without it on,
yet no recollection of having taken it off. Same for night
two, night three, and so on. I finally had to call the
orthodontist about it.
She said that if I was still having problems after seven
days, that I could come in and get something to help me out.
Her solution: these oven mitten like things. They look just
like my mothers oven mittens. They’re loose fitting and all
and likely could give you the key 10 seconds of safety you’d
need if you were hauling a piping hot casserole pan out of the
oven. Only these oven mittens were kind of hand-doctored into
a “headgear keep-on device” of sorts. Crudely sewn to the
mittens is a long, Velcro strap. The object is to wrap the
strap many times around your arm and then tie it off up on the
elbows. That way, not even a resourceful subconscious could
Houdini its way out of it.
Problem with the oven mittens is that they’re designed
for the person who lives with someone else. While its easy to
get the first mitten on and secured, try doing the second one
by yourself, when all you have is a “mitted” hand to do
it? Suffices to say, I tried the oven mitten (only one) on the
first night. Come to find out that I woke up the following
morning without the headgear on. In fact, it had been so
forcefully removed and thrown that it took me 10 minutes to
find it! In my haste to take it off, I threw it and it hit the
floor so hard that it slid UNDER the door to my closet!
How’s that for one’s subconscious sending a message? So, I
was trying to figure out how to get the second oven mitten on
by myself. There was literally no way to get it done. So, I
had a great idea. There’s a 14 year old girl named Courtney
who lives in an apartment on my floor. I’m friendly with her
parents, and have in the past helped tutor her in certain
subjects (most notably geometry). She flashes a beautiful
metal smile herself.
Anyways, one recent Friday night I knew that her parents
were going out to the movies and leaving her there. As soon as
her parents left, I knocked on their door and told her I
needed her help. When she came into my kitchen and saw my
headgear on the table, her eyes bulged and she started
laughing. Laughing SO much so, I might add, that I noticed her
teeth are no longer bound in metal, which made me feel great!
I explained the situation and she agreed to “latch down”
the second arms for me.
After a few minutes of shooting the breeze, she left. So
there I was, at 9PM on Friday night having just worn my
headgear in front of a 14-year old girl wearing really tight
oven mittens. As I went to the TV room (in a typical NYC
apartment, the TV room, kitchen, bedroom are all one and the
same, so it was more like walking to another “sector” of
my apartment) to watch anything and just get tired, I realized
that I was unable to even turn the channel as I needed access
to my fingers to change it. I think I watched about an hour of
some right wing “go to war on Iraq” show that really tired
me out. With some difficulty, I managed to hit the off button
on the TV, and went to get ready for bed.
Let’s just say that I made a mess trying to brush with
headgear on and no finger access. While it was easy to
dispense the toothpaste (I have a pump) and even to grip the
brush, there was no way to close my mouth while I rinsed
because of the headgear. I made quite the mess. (I wish I had
thought through in advance the problems that I’d have
without access to both hands!) But it was war, and I wanted to
win the battle and wake up wearing my headgear! I finally
crashed on the bed, managed to get the comforter over me, and
drifted off to sleep.
That is, of course, until about 2:33AM, when I woke up in
agony. My cheeks and ears were all very sore and I’m not
sure if it was from wearing the headgear or my subconscious
attempts to claw the headgear off. Whichever it was, I was in
a world of pain. Now YOU try opening a bottle of Advil when
you have no fingers! I couldn’t. So, I laid back down,
staring at the ceiling with a wonderful bar obscuring part of
my vision. Now I don’t mean to downplay the pain that I’ve
heard you mortal braces wearers who get chains and various
types of adjustments. But y’all haven’t experienced the
kind of pain I was feeling.
From sheer exhaustion after rolling around for a few hours,
I finally fell asleep again and woke up at about 6AM. I wanted
to cry it hurt so badly. Desperate to brush and take some
Tylenol, I went about trying to get the oven mitts off.
Courtney had tied the Velcro straps tightly around the elbows.
The problem was that it was secured was on the FAR side of the
elbow. I was, therefore, unable to get my teeth (the only
thing I had) far enough over to bite down on the end and pull
It gets worse. So there I am at 6AM. I know Courtney and
her family sleep late on the weekends and I can’t call at
6AM asking to see their young daughter. That would be
inappropriate! So, I sit there waiting. Tick tock, tick tock.
From a night of restless sleeping, I feel pretty bad at this
point, exacerbated by the caged animal feel to the headgear
and the sheer agony of the pulsing ache. At about 7:30AM, it
happened. You know that primal urge to vomit when you’re
really sick? Yep. I raced to the bathroom, firmly inserted
head in bowl, prayed that it was a false alarm…… and –
CENSORED – had one of the top 10 worst feelings of my life.
I won’t say how I finally was extricated from the headgear
(that involved the help of a truly loyal, non-judgmental
friend!). And let’s just say that a violent banging of the
metal face bow of a headgear on an immovable porcelain object
can, in fact, intensify already excruciating pain!
After not having missed a day of work since 1994, some
horrible flu bug thing struck me on that Saturday morning. I
could barely walk on Saturday afternoon and Sunday because my
joints were so sore. Between joint soreness, headaches, sore
throats and a fever of 102, it took me over a week before I
even thought of wearing the headgear again. I may not be bold
like Paula and wear my gear out in public, but I’ve suffered
in defense of my honor and commitment to myself and my
orthodontist to do what it takes!
Hope this didn’t gross anyone out! I assume most sane
people don’t get “locked” in their headgear,
particularly before falling violently ill!
P.S. Courtney’s parents found out all about my headgear
from someone who lives in their apartment. Her mom called me
“gear man” one morning last week when I opened my door to
get the paper on the front stoop!
read Story #5