Forget Brace Face–I Survived Metal Mouth
One day at Girl Scouts, I was asked to list favorite things about myself.
"Freckles," I wrote first. I loved my freckles that scattered like ants on a picnic blanket across the bridge of my nose.
"Cocoa Pebble," I wrote next. I had a brown mole on my left side that I used to think was ugly until a friend told me it looked like a cocoa pebble. Suddenly I fell in love with the speckle that my mom always called my angel kiss.
"Teeth Gap," I jotted with a toothy smile. My two front teeth were separated by a sizable space that I adored. I loved shooting water through it like I was a fountain and making my S's whistle in a high pitch.
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To say the least, I cherished my differences. That was, until they were replaced by something so much worse.
"Now you can choose a color," said my orthodontist from behind a white mask. It was all happening so fast. When I woke up that morning my mouth was perfectly content being uniquely imperfect, and by lunchtime I had little metal cages glued to my pearly whites.
I felt my new teeth with my tongue, grazing them from molar to molar. My smooth teeth had been taken over by sharp barnacles that clung relentlessly to my enamel.
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"Uhh," I said nervously back. He was holding a tray of multicolored rubber bands in front of me. Green and yellow were obvious no because they would just make my teeth look grody. Pink and purple weren't my style. Red was too bright. "Umm," I dragged on, trying to decide between my favorite color orange, and the more popular color blue.
"You can pick two colors if you want."
Before I knew it I had a blue-orange-blue pattern skipping across my teeth. He muttered something to me about coming back next week to get my braces tightened, but all I could think about was how it was becoming painfully (pun intended) obvious that braces weren't just social torture, but physical as well.
I was slapped with a two-year sentence. Allegedly it was imperative that we fixed my cross-bite and gap asap. Life as I knew it was over.
Walking through the big green doors at school, I prayed that no one would notice my new set of silver teeth. My big toothy smile had regressed into a closed-mouth grin and I held my hand conspicuously in front of my face when I talked. It was safe to say I was losing my confidence, although the act seemed to be working. No one asked about my brace-face.
Before class started, a girl who was less than a friend but more than an acquaintance skipped over to me with a face that read trouble. Her eyes squinted and her lips pursed in a mean-looking way and she asked me the weirdest question. "Do you like seafood?" she mumbled. "Not really," I replied with my hand over my mouth.
"BLAHHHH," she yelled as she stuck out her tongue to show me the wad of chewed PB&J sitting on it. I backed away, totally disgusted, and scrunched my face into a grimace.
She doubled over laughing and started gasping, "I knew it!" through breaths. It had all been a ploy to see my braces and it had succeeded. "Why are they orange and blue?" she asked, "That's so weird!"
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Every time I spoke, I noticed my classmates' eyes focused on my mouth. My mom said I was being paranoid, but I knew it was true because I did the same thing. There was a girl in my class who had a mole on her nose that was hard to ignore when talking to her. Suddenly I felt really bad about not making a better effort at eye contact.
It wasn't long before I corrected my rubber band error, and the fascination with my braces subsided. At my second visit I picked baby blue–a safe choice.
"Your mouth will feel sore at first," my orthodontist said while tightening my braces, "but that goes away in a few days. You can always call me if something doesn't feel right."
He was right. The next day my jaw was so sore it felt like I chewed an entire role of Bubble Tape at once. I stared at my smile in the bathroom mirror. My gap was already disappearing–and with it, a small piece of my identity.
I made faces in the mirror while I inspected the inside of my mouth as a whole. I couldn't believe anyone would want to look inside someone's mouth everyday. It was so wet and slimy, and in most cases it smelled –"OW!" I yelled, interrupting my train of thought.
"Ow, ow, ow!"
My yelps were muffled because I couldn't open my mouth all the way. It was a crisis. It was an emergency. My cheek was stuck to my braces. "Mowm, hawlp!" I cried.
Even though it was Saturday, the orthodontist answered my emergency call and came into the office to unlatch my metal-bound cheek. I was so scared of the inevitable pain I was facing.
He tilted my head sideways so he could get a better look. His hands were wrapped in powdery rubber gloves that smelled like a doctor's office. He picked up a tool I couldn't see but assumed was pointy and dangerous; a weapon in the wrong person's hands. As he maneuvered it into my mouth, there was a small pop sort of sound and my cheek was free. Wow I thought, that wasn't bad at all.
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I was beginning to suspect that my orthodontist wasn't my enemy but, in fact, just trying to help me. That was, until he mentioned the expander.
Just when I was finally getting the hang of brace-face, and more specifically, learning to floss through metal wires, I was slapped with a second offense: the expander.
The day it was wired to the roof of my mouth was one of the strangest days of my life. I had to relearn how to swallow my food so that it didn't get caught in the attic-like space between my expander and my palate.
Even though you couldn't see the retainer-looking piece of metal fitted to my top jaw, it still made me speak funny for a while. I sounded like a three-year-old who couldn't yet pronounce her R's. I was certain that when I went to school I would be endlessly mocked for my toddler voice.
"Wait, what is it again?" asked a boy in my class. No one had ever heard of an expander before. I opened my mouth and tilted my head back to show a small group of classmates who gathered around to see.
"It looks like a spaceship!" said one of them. Somehow, some totally unforeseen thing was happening: No one mocked me. No one teased me. Everyone thought it was cool. I wanted to pinch myself because I must have been dreaming.
A Sentence Lifted
After only one year, I was free from my metal mouth. My orthodontist told me that my cross-bite had corrected itself much faster than he anticipated and that I could get everything removed.
As soon as he took the braces off, I glided my tongue across my smooth teeth. They felt so slippery! I couldn't stop telling everyone how nice and smooth they felt.
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I looked into the handheld mirror he handed me and smiled as wide as I could. It was my first time officially seeing my teeth without the gap I had once loved. I knew it had closed up but I couldn't really tell past the wires and rubber bands.
I guess I thought I would feel…different. As I stared into the mirror, I only saw myself. I was used to my gapless smile after so many months of looking at it. It was the same ol' me in the reflection, only, maybe, more confident than ever.
After surviving metal-mouth, I learned that my favorite part of me wasn't just on my body, but inside my heart. Despite the embarrassing, painful, gross and cool experiences of orthodontia, I got through it all with equal parts confidence and bravery.
Once you've got your metal-free grin to show off, put those pearly whites to use with THESE five self-help apps that will keep you smiling all day long!