My Braces Experience

It occurred to me that I have yet to blog anything about my braces and I figured it was about time I did that! Of course, this realization actually occurred to me about two years ago, so to say that this post is overdue would be a huge understatement, especially since my braces have [FINALLY!!!! Eeeeeee!!!] been off now for five months.

Shortly after Pie and I got engaged in July 2012 I had a crazy idea that it would be nice to get braces before we got married so that my teeth would look amazing in pictures. I was fortunate enough to get braces when I was 10 years old, but it’s no surprise that 20 years and one dog-eaten retainer later, my teeth had shifted.

For the most part, I have thought that my teeth weren’t really that out of alignment and it was just one of my front top teeth that was slightly crooked that I wanted fixed.

before-6

I thought it would be an easy-peasy deal to just fix that one tooth, so off to the orthodontist I went for a free quote!

And back home I went! I was delivered the disappointing news that braces would cost several thousand dollars and wasn’t covered by my dental insurance. Furthermore, I was told that the orthodontist couldn’t (or didn’t want to) just fix my misaligned front tooth. The overbite that I had corrected as a child had redeveloped and the whole kit and caboodle would need to be shackled up in expensive metal, which would take years to fix, not just a few months, as I had hoped.

After the orthodontist pointed out this flaw, I became more and more self-conscious about it, noticing that it wasn’t normal that I couldn’t close my lips over my mouth comfortably and easily. In goofy photos it was finally becoming obvious that I had a big gap between my top and bottom teeth and in photos taken of my side profile, it was obvious that my lips had to extend over my front teeth a great deal just to close my lips. Having misaligned teeth was also likely also causing excessive long-term wear and tear on my teeth and gums.

braces-before

A few thousand dollars worth of metal was obviously not in our wedding budget, so I didn’t get braces for the wedding, but from then on, my awkward mouth was constantly on my mind!

When I thought about the type of job I wanted to apply for after we moved to Denver, I knew that I wanted to find an employer whose benefits would likely include orthodontic coverage. And that I did!

Getting Quotes

Although I had landed a job with excellent benefits, I had forgotten about the braces idea for quite a while because I knew even with insurance coverage it would still be very expensive. Out of the blue one day, I decided that I should at least find out what that cost was.

I knew that having braces would mean lots of appointments, so when I looked for an orthodontist, my preference was to have one near my work location so I could quickly get to the appointment and back to work. The quest for an orthodontist located near my work was like a variation of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I ended up with three orthodontists, each with completely different estimates and “vibes”.

  1. The first orthodontist quoted me less than $100 for metal braces (after insurance) and this seemed almost too good to be true, but something also seemed “off” about his personality and experience (even though he was an older man that had been practicing for a long time, supposedly). There were also zero reviews of his business online, so that seemed sketch.
  2. The second orthodontist quoted me $5,200 for metal braces and $7,500 for Invisalign (after insurance!). This doctor was amazing, very professional, and rated one of the top orthodontists in Colorado.
  3. The third orthodontist quoted me  $2,600 for metal braces and $4,000 for Invisalign (after insurance). This orthodontist was somewhat younger and had started his own business not too long ago, but seemed really confident, knowledgeable, and had a fun personality!

With these quotes in hand, I went to hubby with my proposed idea to get braces. I thought hubby would surely not want to spend even a couple of thousand on something that felt mainly like an aesthetic fix, but he was actually on board! I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that hubby was supportive of me getting braces because he is always so supportive and sweet like that!

Choosing an Orthodontist

The next decision of which orthodontist to go with was actually a tough one! Even though my instincts told me to run away from the orthodontist that seemed like a whack job and had the lowest quote, it was so tempting to get my teeth fixed for just a few bucks! Even if he might not do the best job of fixing my teeth, surely he couldn’t mess up at least fixing my one crooked front tooth, which was the biggest part I cared about anyway.

And it was obviously tempting to go with the orthodontist that was the most experienced and best rated; if I was going to get my teeth fixed I should just get it done right! But how important were my teeth that I was willing to spend at least $5,200 on them?

In the end, I decided to go with the last orthodontist with the “middle” quote that had a good balance of experience, personality, and cost. Hubby was helpful in convincing me that I should get my teeth done right the first time and not trust some whack job. At the same time, it felt too selfish for me to spend the quoted amounts from the most expensive orthodontist.

Choosing Braces or Invisalign

My next big decision was to decide braces or Invisalign. In my head, I had thought that there was only one choice I would go for: clear (ceramic) braces. As a 10-year-old, I had loved having braces and changing out the rubber band colors with every color of the rainbow. As an adult, the thought of having metal braces wasn’t even something I would begin to consider! But right away I was surprised to learn of several drawbacks to clear braces:

  • They stick out more than metal braces
  • They break more easily than metal braces
  • Because of how much more fragile they are, orthodontists prefer to only put clear braces on the top teeth and metal on the bottom teeth
  • The clear rubber bands stain easily from food and drink
  • They are, on average, about $1000 more than metal braces

With this new knowledge in hand, I was certain I didn’t want clear braces. Although I really didn’t want my orthodontic appliance to be obvious, I figured getting clear braces would be pointless if I had to pay all that extra money to still have visible braces on the bottom. I also drink a lot of red wine and had developed a recent habit of drinking coffee, so having ugly, stained rubber bands for most of the month (even if they were switched out at each appointment) seemed to also defeat the point in having clear braces. The biggest deal breaker for me personally though, was the fact that they would stick out more than metal braces. If I was already self-conscious enough about closing my lips over my overbite, it was going to be even worse with big braces stuck on my teeth.

With metal braces still not being an option in my mind, I turned to Invisalign trays. But that, too, had so many drawbacks!!

  • Snacking and drinking anything but water would be a chore because I would have to take out the Invisalign trays each time, then brush both my teeth and the trays before putting them back in my mouth
  • Taking out the trays in front of friends/strangers before eating a meal in public would be awkward
  • They have to be (or should be) kept in for a minimum of 22 hours a day, so no sipping on margaritas all day on a lazy Saturday or leisurely snacking on a huge pile of goldfish crackers at work
  • They sometimes require “attachments”, which are small enamel-colored buttons on your teeth that click into the trays; since these literally stick out on each tooth, they are not only visible, but also are said to cause as much discomfort as metal braces and there was no telling how many of these attachments I might end up needing!
  • They are soooooo expensive

It was really tough, but between the cost of Invisalign and the huge inconvenience of taking out the trays for every damn snack and glass of wine I wanted to drink, Invisalign just didn’t seem like the option for me. Furthermore, I couldn’t imagine adhering to the 22-hour rule and not being tempted to leave the trays out when my teeth were feeling miserable.

Metal it was! Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad?

Getting All That Metal!

Fortunate (or unfortunate) for me, I was able to get an appointment with the orthodontist within only one week of visiting them for a quote and deciding that I would go with metal braces. This gave me no time to really second guess my decision. At times, I felt mostly brave enough to pull off the “dorky braces” look I was about to sign up for, and other times when I began to panic about the two-year commitment I was about to make, I had to convince myself that two years was a small amount of time to look dorky compared to a lifetime of having crooked teeth.

Braces Day happened the morning of September 2, 2014. The orthodontist told me to eat a big meal before going to the appointment because my mouth might be too sore to eat afterwards. For good measure, I also took some ibuprofen before the appointment.

Getting braces ended up being a much bigger shock than I could have ever anticipated. My mouth was propped open with plastic gadgets for all the gluing and fun stuff and when everything was removed so I could close my mouth, I was in so much disbelief about how big and bumpy the braces were. While I was glad that I hadn’t chosen the clear ceramic braces, which stick out even more than the metal ones, to say that I felt “glad” about my choice that day would not be accurate description of my feelings at all.

It wasn’t until several hours after the appointment (possibly after the ibuprofen wore off) that the feeling of slight discomfort and tightness in my mouth turned to pain. My previous assumptions that braces were just going to be a new, weird sensation were totally wrong. They were uncomfortable, awkward, painful, and frustrating all at the same time.

Although I had been able to eat a small snack when I returned from my appointment in the morning, by the end of the day my stomach was growling as much as my mouth, so I decided I had to try to eat. Hubby and I went to Chili’s after work and I ordered Southwestern Eggrolls, severely underestimating my ability to eat. I was only able to eat half an eggroll before giving up and just drinking two margaritas.

By the way, the quickest way to take off ten years from your age isn’t plastic surgery, it’s braces! Nothing will make you look dorkier and younger than a mouth full metal. I was carded for alcohol every single time during the entire period I had braces. The day I got my braces off: not carded. No joke.

By the end of the first day, I was 100% regretting my decision to get braces. I wanted nothing more than to take out all that awkward, painful metal attached to my teeth. If I hadn’t already paid for my full treatment fee up front, I swore that I would have run back to the orthodontist office the next day and demanded they take the braces off. I was THAT miserable.

On the other hand, this made me realize that I made the right choice in getting braces over Invisalign. If I had chosen Invisalign, those suckers would have definitely come out right away and any other time the pain got to be too much and I would not have gotten my money’s worth.

braces-day-1

I’m not even sure why I was smiling in these “before” and “after” photos on Braces Day. What was I thinking?

braces-day-2

My braces on Day 1. This made my teeth look way more crooked than I thought they were!

Day 2 of braces was even worse than day 1. I was experiencing an exhausting marathon of discomfort and pain that I couldn’t escape.

My wonderful boss had surprised me at work the next morning with a pint of chocolate chip ice cream and I had been so excited to eat it until I realized that even the small chocolate chip pieces in the ice cream were unexpectedly unbearable to try to eat. Eating soup also proved to be painful because of the discomfort of trying to put my lips over my braces every time I took a spoonful of soup to swallow.

braces-ice-cream

What I also hadn’t expected was how difficult it would be to talk. My speech wasn’t necessarily affected by the braces (for the most part, I adjusted my speech within a few hours); it was the act of moving my lips over my braces while I talked that was incredibly awkward. I never realized how much my upper lip had to move over my front teeth in order to form words. With the braces in the way, I felt like I was making duck faces at every word I tried to form.

Constantly moving my lips over my braces also caused my mouth to be incredibly dry, which was only 100x worse by the end of the day. No amount of water could solve this dilemma!

Besides the teeth themselves being in pain, my jaw was in a constant state of inexplicable discomfort; possibly from my teeth shifting, but probably more so from the fact that now I had to keep my mouth in an open position because this was what was most “comfortable”. It was downright exhausting trying to figure out what to do with my mouth. Should I keep it open and look dumb or should I keep it closed and look dumb? Decisions.

braces day 3.jpg

An attempt to close my mouth “naturally” with the braces. Fail!

The next few days were much of the same discomfort, frustration, pain, and awkwardness. I had such amazing co-workers that tried to cheer me up and tell me the cliche “it will be worth it in the end” advice, but I wanted nothing more than to just not talk or face anyone because it was the awkwardness of talking to people that was just as bad as the physical pain.

Getting Used to the Braces

By day 10 my mouth finally started to feel a little bit better and the next several months after that eventually became more tolerable.

I had appointments every month to change out the rubber bands and those appointments didn’t hurt nearly as much as the first appointment. I tried to have as much fun as I could with the process by getting fun colors for rubber bands every now and then.

braces-2015

It’s a common misconception that the orthodontist “tightens” your braces every month. It’s the wires that are doing most of the action because your teeth are trying to conform to that perfectly curved wire. Every few months the orthodontist would change to a stronger wire and this is what would be most painful for the first week or two.

Although I had gone through my fair share of wax for the first few months of my treatment for poking wires, several months into my treatment, they finally added brackets to my very back teeth that were previously missing brackets (for some reason unknown to me).

Adding the brackets to these very back teeth was equally as painful as the first day of braces. It wasn’t that my teeth were in pain, it was my gums that hurt. It was much harder for them to cut the wires on those back brackets so they weren’t sticking out and even the smallest bit of wire sticking out (along with the bracket itself) was like the devil himself stabbing my gums with a pitch fork. I could hardly go a few minutes without having wax on my back teeth.

Getting MORE Metal!

Just as I began getting used to my braces and thinking it would be smooth sailing, my orthodontist threw a monkey wrench in my plan to coast through the next 1.5 years of my treatment. I naively thought that getting braces would be just that, getting braces. I would have never expected what came next, which was that they crammed even more metal in my mouth!

The orthodontist had decided the next step in my treatment was to add two tiny screws, called temporary anchorage devices (TADs), to each side of my upper jaw and attached to these screws were rubber bands, and attached to those rubber bands was a device that sat at the roof of my mouth, called a trans-palatal arch (TPA). If you think that sentence was a mouthful, imagine my actual mouth. Actually, you don’t have to… here it is:

braces-tads-tpa

The procedure to get the TADs (tiny screws) put in my upper jaw wasn’t the most pleasant, but it did sound more awful than it actually was. I had done tons of research on my own prior to this “procedure” and even though the orthodontist had told me that he would numb my mouth with novocaine prior to inserting all the screws, my intense Googling told me that this wasn’t really necessary.

I told my orthodontist that I wanted to forgo the needle and we both shared some nervous laughs about how I didn’t want to be poked with a needle but was just about to get four tiny screws drilled into my jaw bone. Apparently my orthodontist had never done it without novocaine, so he was just as nervous as me.

The orthodontist used a topical numbing cream instead and used a small screwdriver to put each screw into my jaw. I could feel each turn of the screw driver like a sharp pinch with lots of pressure, but the procedure was finished in probably less than 10 minutes. I had taken a couple of ibuprofen before this procedure, so it wasn’t until hours later when the ibuprofen wore off that my mouth was in pain.

By the next day the pain in my jaw had mostly subsided and in its place was the unexpected, sharp pain of the screws rubbing against my cheek. While I could cover each screw with a little bit of wax, there was one screw in particular that was so placed so high up on my jaw that wax would not stay on it. This pain of that one particular screw rubbing against my cheek was by far the worst pain of anything I had experienced during my whole treatment and it lasted for months on end.

In addition to the pain from the screws, the TPA appliance at the roof of my mouth was also the biggest inconvenience. It rubbed against my tongue 24 hours a day and made speech very difficult and my tongue very bumpy and dry. I never got used to having this appliance in my mouth and was painfully aware of its existence practically all day, every day.

The End of My Treatment

Coming up on the year and half mark, I was SOOO done with the braces and the TADs and TPA and elastics. At the beginning of my treatment, my orthodontist had guessed that I would be in braces for about two years. In the meantime, my orthodontist seemed to nonchalantly dodge any question of how accurate that initial guess was.

Around the 19th month of my treatment, I was supposed to be in a wedding and had dreaded the thought of being in dorky braces, but realized there was nothing I could do about it because I had received no hints that my braces were coming off any time soon. I just had to suck it up. I had the dentist swap my usual silver rubber bands for clear ones the day before the wedding, but it didn’t make much of a difference.

braces-clear-rubber-bands

At the next appointment on my 20th month of treatment, I half-jokingly and bluntly asked if my braces were coming off at the next appointment. The orthodontist laughed and apologized and still, gave no guess of when they might come off.

Not only was it highly unlikely they were coming off any time soon, but I was given MORE elastics to put around my braces during that appointment. The new elastics would loop around the front of my teeth and felt even more obvious than the ones that were already in my mouth on both sides.

braces-elastics-tpa-tads

With all that was in my mouth, it was no wonder I was so mentally exhausted of having braces.

It wasn’t until I got home that I was able to peek in the mirror and see that the new elastics that wrapped around my front braces actually weren’t as obvious as I thought they would be since these elastics were non-latex ones that appeared clear, instead of white.

braces-month-22

For as worried as I had been about the new elastic that I had to loop around my front brackets, it actually wasn’t that noticeable after all. Whew! But still.

Nonetheless, I felt so frustrated and defeated. It was around this time that I had started a new job working in a more professional environment and that job environment, coupled with the social insecurities of meeting so many new people, left me feeling so mentally exhausted of the whole ordeal. Because my crooked front teeth had been corrected within the first few months of treatment, the rest of my time in braces just felt like unnecessary torture.

At the same time, I struggled with being able to complain and vent to others about what I was going through because not only was this self-inflicted torture, but I should have considered myself very fortunate that I could afford to get my teeth fixed.

Braces Off!

Eventually though, the day came when my braces would finally come off: July 2016. I had spent 22 months in braces and I was more than ready to get all that metal out of my mouth!

I was so nervous that I would show up to the orthodontist office and be told that my braces weren’t actually coming off after all that I ended up keeping my big, upcoming “braces off” appointment a secret from everyone I knew, even hubby!

The days leading up to my final appointment were nerve-wracking. During the course of my treatment, I had been re-admitted to grad school to finish my degree. Although I had never been much of a coffee drinker before this, the task of finishing my degree, coupled with a full-time job, automatically meant that I would develop a coffee habit. I worried that when my braces came off, my coffee habit would be revealed in the form of white squares surrounded by yellow stains.

By sheer luck, this was somehow not the case! Well, it was probably not by luck and more from the fact that I brushed my teeth literally five times a day. My teeth looked just fine and I was able to smile confidently when I greeted my hubby for the first time in almost two years, sans metal-mouth! And yes, he passed the “test” and noticed my brace-free smile right away!

Retainers

One thing I had not put much thought into was retainers. Although I thought I had been wise enough to ask during my initial consultation if retainers were included in my treatment fee, apparently I wasn’t wise enough to ask exactly what kind of retainers were included.

It wasn’t until the month before my debonding appointment that my orthodontist mentioned that I had a few options for retainers.

  • Hawley retainers – These retainers were included in my treatment fee. They are the old-school retainers that sit at the roof of your mouth with the wire across your teeth. This was an immediate “no” for me. I knew I would have to wear my retainers for 24 days a day for the first several months and after getting all that metal out of my mouth, I didn’t want to replace it with more metal. Besides, these were not recommended by the orthodontist anyway because they did a poor job of keeping the teeth aligned
  • Essix retainers – These are the clear, plastic retainers that are made in-house and are very common. The drawbacks of these are that they create the mold after you get your braces off and if you lose these retainers, a whole new mold needs to be made off your current teeth, which might have shifted in the meantime (even if you’ve been wearing your retainers).
  • Vivera retainers – These are made by the same company as Invisalign and are made of clear plastic, similar to the standard essix retainers. A 3-D digital scan is made of the teeth and four identical sets of the retainers are sent to the patient. Because of the precise scan, these are molded and cut exactly to the teeth and look pretty amazing. These have to be switched out every few months or years depending on how worn down they get (and technically, this is true of any orthodontic retaining device). The biggest advantage of these was that the orthodontist could order a new set if they were lost and a new scan or mold was not necessary.
  • Permanent wire retainers – These weren’t even an option offered by my orthodontist and although I tried to prod him why he didn’t prefer these (I suspected that he was just trying to push the expensive Vivera retainers), I didn’t get a good answer. I previously had a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth and had even told my orthodontist from the very start that I wanted a wire retainer back on my bottom teeth when my treatment was finished, but in the end, I just gave up on arguing this with my orthodontist. Besides, I wouldn’t miss trying to floss and brush around that wire retainer anyway.

The Vivera retainers were the obvious choice; it was just disappointing that I ended up having to pay an additional $500 at the end of my treatment that I wasn’t expecting. I also ended up getting an in-house essix retainer made while I waited two weeks for the Vivera retainers to arrive. This allowed me to see how much of a difference (if any) there was between the in-house essix and the fancy Vivera.

Although both were not very noticeable on my teeth, the in-house essix retainers seemed to be made of a thicker plastic and didn’t feel molded to my teeth as precisely as the Vivera. Without a doubt, the Vivera felt much more comfortable to have in my mouth all day and I was very glad I chose the Vivera.

vivera-invisalign-retainers

A Few More Adjustments

In the months following the debonding of my braces, I still had a few VERY minor things that I wanted corrected with my “new” smile.

The new alignment of my teeth made one tooth still look like it was crooked, simply because it didn’t have a straight edge on the bottom. The dentist shaved down this tooth and all was good!

I didn’t floss a single time during my braces treatment because it was such a huge inconvenience, but I did develop a habit of using GUM’s soft picks. The combination of using these several times a day along with brushing put my gums in a much healthier state and they weren’t nearly as puffy or inflamed. On the other hand, this created a tiny black hole between my two front teeth that made it look like I had pepper stuck in my teeth (oddly enough, this small hole didn’t appear until a month or two after my braces came off). My dentist added some enamel to this area to fill in the tiny gap and that was that!

img_6966

Tiny black dot of doom between my teeth. Details, details.

Although I had been previously worried about having stained teeth when I had my debonding appointment, the truth was that my teeth might have actually been whiter after braces. This was probably because of all the brushing I did during my 2-year treatment time.

In any case, I still wanted my teeth whiter, so I purchased some teeth whitening gel from my dentist called Opalescence. The most expensive part of teeth whitening at home is getting custom-made trays of your teeth to put the gel in. With my new Vivera retainers, I wouldn’t need to buy separate retainers, so I was all set to get a brighter smile!

before-8

Before braces, my teeth were quite yellow!

Was is all worth it?

Correcting the last few nit-picky details of my smile made my teeth finally look like a million (or a thousand) bucks and I was much happier with the result than when I initially had the braces taken off.

In the end, I can’t say with certainty that getting braces was worth all the trouble and cost for what I personally went through, but I do know that getting metal braces over Invisalign or clear ceramic braces was the right choice for me. I know that I would have never adhered to the 22-hour minimum rule that I needed to keep the Invisalign trays in. And I know for the one or two times that I chose clear rubber bands (instead of silver), that those things looked pretty nasty after only one week, so I couldn’t imagine how nasty clear braces would have looked.

In any case, my braces experience is behind me and I now have a more confident smile!

braces off.JPG

Braces off!

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