Life is full of surprises. If I never thought I’d live in Hawaii, I sure as hell couldn’t imagine getting braces in middle-age. I am nearly fifty years old, and I just got braces. WTF?
I have known my bite was off for quite some time. My teeth didn’t fit right when I’d chew, and I’d wake up with occasional jaw pain that would have me reaching for the ibuprofen. I put off taking care of it because I was dodging a terrifying procedure. A dentist back in Colorado told me I would need to have my jaw broken, then repositioned to align my top and bottom molars. And I better find someone good at plastic surgery because my face would be a mess. Yeah. Sign me up. Not!
A couple of my teeth were cracked, and I was due for a cleaning and a checkup, so I bit the bullet (ouch!) and made an appointment here on Maui. The dentist told me to visit an orthodontist because the grooves in my teeth would get worse if I didn’t tend to the problem.
“At least go have a consultation.”
Sitting in the examining chair with my lips splayed open by a wide, plastic, something-or-other, I was expecting to hear the same bad news. Thoughts of reconstructive surgery gripped my attention. I sure hope it’s covered by insurance; maybe I can get a facelift while they are at it, I thought.
“You’ll need braces for 18 months.”
I was in denial. She’s so wrong, I am supposed to have my jaw broken and they’ll agree to tighten the skin under my chin just like they do for the rich and famous. What does she know? I secretly retaliated in my ignorance.
“You won’t be able to eat solid food for a while.”
Yeah, so what. I’m still in denial.
“Think of it as a diet.”
By now, I wasn’t just rejecting the prognosis, I was insulted. A diet? Do I need to go on a diet? Okay, the thought of a facelift was a stretch, but a diet? Who does she think she is?
“Your speech will change.”
I scheduled the appointment through a haze of disbelief. I still wasn’t convinced I needed braces. I imagined telling my dad. I could hear his voice say, “If it doesn’t matter, don’t make it matter.” But it mattered. My teeth were not aligned, and something had to change. At least I don’t have to have surgery. There is a silver lining to every story. That silver lining was soon to be shining across my pearly whites.
Nine long and anticipatory days later, I sat for two hours, my mouth opened wide, teeth exposed. Off in the distance I saw skiers and snowboarders perform death-defying tricks on TV. Seeing snowy mountains and spruce trees against a blue sky made me feel homesick. I drifted off to living in Colorado. I imagined cross-country skiing at Boggy Draw with my dogs on a bluebird day in February. I envisioned golden aspen trees fluttering, and felt a crisp, sun-filled October breeze across my face.
“Your teeth will be sore for a while.”
Reacquainted with the moment at hand, tolerance persevered as tools and fingers tap danced across my teeth. Shifting my daydreams to snorkeling with turtles and parrot fish in the Pacific Ocean restored my hope and optimism. I can handle this. Can’t I?
What if my teeth are too sore to snorkel? A hot flash ensued.
“Great job, Jill. Time to swishy swish.”
Swishy swish? Few adults sit in their chairs.
What I used to know about rinsing my mouth no longer applied. I looked down to see how visible the water spots were on my blouse.
“Your bite turbos will take a while to get used to.”
“Few people tolerate them.”
Turbos, because they’ll expedite the time I’ll wear braces. Bite, because they really bite. They prevent me from being able to chew anything. These infamous bite turbos sit on the inside of my two front teeth, protruding to infinitum. Because of them, my top and bottom molars don’t come together. That bites.
“You won’t be able to eat solid food.”
Fine. I’m not a breakfast eater. Next.
I can accept having protein powder enriched smoothies for lunch. Next.
Salty, broth-y soup has always been my favorite food group. So far so good.
Because I am in the land of tropical fruit and iron-rich produce, I can whip up mango, dragon fruit, and papaya frappes with fresh coconut water. Ripened-on-the-tree avocado and chilled cucumber soup. Mashed purple Okinawa potatoes. Roasted celery root. Bring it on.
I am confident I will get used to it. I will tolerate the bite turbos, better than anyone.
With the spirit of a competitive athlete, I strutted back to my car.
“Pick up wine,” read a text from Dean.
No problem. I have orders to drink my dinner.
Waiting in line at the liquor store, I wondered what people thought of my improvisational face yoga routine. I couldn’t keep my tongue from prodding the armor inside my mouth, and my cheeks were quivering like my body would after doing “just a few more” core moves in Pilates.
Sandwiched between a Brazilian bachelorette party and a boisterous local on his way to a bonfire made me want to chime in on the lively small talk. Do I smile with my lips closed? No. A tight-lipped smile looks snarky on me. But if they are open, they’ll think I need to be validated for being a brave middle-aged woman with braces. A dark cloud suffocated my comfort zone.
Finally, someone who gets me.
“Date of birth please?”
“Thicks, thicks, theventy.”
“Six, six, seventy?”
“Your speech will change.”
I returned home with a bag of tiny rubber bands, a case of wine, six boxes of chicken broth, loads of tropical fruit, celery, mushrooms, leeks, butternut squash, and carrots.
Dear blender, you and I better get along.
To be continued…