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Ottman: Brace yourself

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Jill Ottman

Jill Ottman

It was bleak day when my dentist announced to me that my teeth were moving at an accelerated pace and asked whether I wanted to consider wearing braces. This is not news anyone wants to receive even when standing. Hearing it on my back with my head lowered at least a few inches below my feet, my mouth full of metal stuff that squirted water and other things that removed it, led at once to a gag-and-coughing fit.

The dentist proceeded to tell me that even after many years of no orthodontic complications, some former brace-faces [my words, not his] find that their teeth begin to reassume their hereditary, crooked pattern. Teeth, like brain cells, apparently have memory! And yes, this was happening to me. My pesky No. 10 lateral incisor was pushing forward again, allowing the No. 9 central incisor to start tilting sideways. At home, I searched for my eighth-grade school picture, taken just before I started wearing braces. Alas, I was definitely on my way to looking like that again. It was time for some proactive intervention on my part. I called an orthodontist and went in for a consultation.

I was first asked whether I still wore my retainer. This made me laugh out loud. My retainer had vanished, along with the detritus of a family meal, probably a good 30 years ago. My orthodontist suggested, to my relief, that as long as I was okay with where my teeth were now, a retainer would solve the problem of further movement. I would just have to deal with wearing it on a more or less permanent basis. At least I could do this at night and not have to answer the phone at work with “Good mawnink, dish is Juhl.”

I spoke the other day to a co-worker in my office who sports a full set of braces, upper and lower. She isn’t exactly enjoying the process, but is grateful for the opportunity to get her teeth straightened, and also to remedy a jaw problem that has started bothering her of late. She told me her orthodontist has a number of adult patients. On a recent family visit she was startled at how many adults in her home town are wearing braces. It surprises me to learn that in some areas of the country, up to a third of orthodontists’ patients are adults. Some are people like me—the ones who stopped wearing their retainers, but there are also folks out there who are just tired of hiding their teeth when they smile or laugh. It’s neither painless nor cheap, but a successfully completed course of orthodontia can give your self-esteem a huge boost at any age. It’s certainly a lot less risky than cosmetic surgery. It can also help stave off or remedy jaw and bite problems as you grow older.

So—for those of you out there who got your braces off: protect your/your parents’ investment and wear your retainer! If your retainer is now in a landfill or more than 10 years old, go get a new one! Your teeth will move, and they don’t cost much at all. At the risk of making my column sound like an advertisement for the AAO (American Association of Orthodontists), I’m just going to say that you’re never too old to fix your bite and end up with a better smile. According to the selfsame AAO, there are 20 professional orthodontists practicing in Wyoming—even in smaller towns like Cody and Newcastle.

I picked up my retainer this week. It looks pretty much just like the old one, but it does come in a cuter case. I’m glad, because I’ll be wearing it until I’m dead. Maybe I’ll even ask my relatives to have me laid out in my coffin, smiling and wearing my retainer, with a nice little note on my chest that reads: “Wear Your Retainer!” Now wouldn’t that be a wake everybody would talk about for a while, and I bet everybody who had a retainer sitting neglected in the medicine cabinet would we wearing it that very night.

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Jill Ottman lives in Laramie. Her orthodontist is Dr. Robert J. Edwards.

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