Friday, 16 March 2012

Braces 101

Not necessarily related to my blog, but this is something I've been really adamant about addressing. I've had some form of a brace since I was twelve, that's a whopping 8 years of braces experience, and last week my orthodontist informed me that I'm finally getting my braces off. I'm going to talk a little about the basics, as I was asked about this from a few people.

At twelve I had bad teeth, bad in terms of their layout, not condition (no fillings or anything like that); but I was getting into that awkward teenage stage and was very conscious of how my teeth looked. I had a severe overbite of 14mm (most people's being at 0mm), that being my top teeth protruded out much more than my bottom teeth, I had some spacing issues and my bottom teeth were crooked. I used to get called Bugs Bunny a lot. So, I went for a consultation with an orthodontist, and then went ahead with the braces pretty much straight away. At the consultation you'll get an x-ray of your head to see what your jaw and teeth look like.

My first set were twin blocks, which are a form of retainer that pushed my jaw forward, in order for my teeth to meet somewhat. These are fitted by impressions, which is a clay-like mold that is put into your mouth for few minutes, it doesn't hurt, though it does taste like hell. I had these for about a year, as not only did they push my jaw forward, but the top set also made my palate wider. Not going to lie, they do hurt for the first few weeks, and wearing these was annoying, your teeth never meet while wearing them so your mouth feels constantly open, you can't eat with them and you'll sound funny when you speak with them for the first few weeks.

I was really bad for forgetting to put the twin blocks back in after I ate, went horse riding or played sport, which did add to my treatment time, so let that be a lesson to the lazier people! They also need a bit of care, they need to be cleaned thoroughly every time you brush your teeth, I'm talking soaking them in Milton here. Despite the hatred I possessed for them, my jaw was pushed forward significantly, and I was no longer buck toothed. (Boom)

After the twin blocks I was given train tracks on the bottom and still had the top set of the twin blocks to continue widening my palate. The train tracks are fixed with wires and brackets, and aren't too bad to get fitted. They clean and polish your teeth first, then use this weird blue light to get the brackets to adhere to the tooth. They give you wax to put on the brackets and wires to stop you getting cut by them, bar the corners I just put up with it as the wax fell off while eating, drinking and what not. The wax also looks awful. I (still!) had some baby teeth at this point so my orthodontist only applied the brackets to the adult teeth, leaving the baby teeth alone. At this point they fix elastics over the brackets and while I was younger I put on coloured ones (tip- the darker the colour you pick, the whiter your teeth look! Also, light colours look messed up after you eat certain foods like curry). After another six months or so I got my top set of train tracks fitted, just as the bottom set. At this point my teeth were slowly beginning to straighten up. I was waiting for my baby teeth to fall out too, before I could continue on in getting everything fixed. Another six months on and I still had three baby teeth refusing to fall out, still perfectly intact. There's not really much point in extracting baby teeth, right? So I waited for them to fall out. Eventually, I was about 14 or 15 and there was still one baby tooth happily slotted in with the rest of them, so I had to go for an extraction. It didn't hurt as much as getting a normal extraction, and when the adult tooth finally appeared I could continue on.

As it turned out, the top set of teeth had too much going on so I had to wear headgear (cringe) at night. The idea of these was to make room at the back for my teeth to straighten. Headgear is painful, it gives headaches, and I found it hard to sleep with it. I often used to take the headgear off in my sleep. After wearing the headgear for a year and a half at night, and it coming to little effect, I had to extract two teeth at the top to allow room for my teeth to straighten, which was butters. I wasn't particularly happy about getting two perfect teeth removed, but admittedly, it was a far superior alternative to headgear. After the extractions, I had to wait for the gaps in my teeth to close before I could really do anything new. A few months later the gaps closed and my orthodontist fitted molar bands to my top and bottom teeth. Around this time I was about 16, and started getting really impatient, and ended up being really scatty about making my appointments. This, of course, added to my treatment time. Don't do this guys! Just stick with the appointments, I wasted a lot of time by doing this. On a brighter note, at this point my teeth were totally straight.

After another year or so, when I was around 17, I was introduced to elastics. Elastics are a total pain. The effort that goes into them is testing. They're also sore, not enough to really hurt you, but enough to annoy you and want to take a mild painkiller, especially if you double up on elastics. The elastics continued for ages, up until I was about 19. They're fiddly and awkward to put on, and sometimes snap while eating or talking. Again, because I wasn't always committed to keeping them on, they took some time to get through. But the way I put them on varied, depending on what my orthodontist wanted me to work on. This was because my bite was off - my teeth didn't meet properly. I also had a molar that decided it would be a great idea to become impacted, which took a further 6 months to rectify fully. My bite is what I've been working on since then, but FINALLY, after all this time, I was told that it's all done and it's now time to get my braces off. My orthodontist showed me before pictures when I started, and I can't believe the difference. 

Anyway, I've got a week and a half before I get my braces off, and I'm beyond excited. 

Just a few questions that I was specifically asked

1. Do braces hurt?
Without lying, yes they hurt a bit. It's nothing sinister, but your teeth hurt anytime you do something new with them (hence my hatred of elastics). The word "tender" springs to mind when describing braces pain. You won't be happy for a few days/weeks, depending on what you've got done. A few panadol when it gets really bad and you'll be fine. Your teeth get used to the new changes fairly quick. Most of the time it's chewing food that will be the most problematic part in having braces. And, you very much get over any fear you may have previously had for visiting the dentist.

2. What do you eat after you've gotten your braces tightened?
Not much! Soups, noodles, pasta, rice, baby food and yoghurt. The pain only lasts a few days and if you're hungry enough you'll get over it.

3. Is there anything you can't do while you have braces?
Not really. You can't really eat chewy sweets as they get stuck. I always took my twin blocks out while going horse riding, running or doing P.E., just in case. I'd recommend not getting a punch to the face either, but I'd imagine most people don't engage in that activity so frequently to warrant being advised as such. Also, I wouldn't imagine running amok with a metal detector or giant magnet would prove to constitute much fun while wearing braces.

4. What is it like to kiss/shift/make out with braces?
Honestly, I've only ever kissed once without braces so I actually don't really know what it's like to do it without braces, it doesn't affect anything I think. If the person you're shifting can feel your braces then they're definitely doing it wrong! Though, I'll update you all on that when I get my braces off!

**Update- There is no difference to kissing someone while wearing braces than there is to kissing someone without wearing braces!**

5. Do I still need to go to the dentist?
I want to ensure that you are clear on this, yes, you certainly do have to go to the dentist's office. The orthodontist focuses on the layout of your teeth, and will probably only mention and dental problems if they happen to see them. Your orthodontist is not going to rectify these, so make sure that you continue to visit the dentist. There's no point in having straight teeth if they're decaying, right? 

6. What is it like to have braces?
If you didn't gauge from my essay above, it's a lot of effort. It's like having an extra two sets of teeth. But in terms of people's reactions to my having braces, I'd say it's very small to non existent. A lot of people only realise that I have braces quite a while after I've met them. Some small children get really freaked out or fascinated, which is hilarious. Friends and acquaintances from my early teen years will often ask when I'm getting them off, but that's it. I've also never been bullied because of braces, and I don't know anyone that has been bullied for having braces either. I think the bullying association with braces is a cliched 90's kids show thing, nearly everyone's got braces at some point in their lives. A lot of people who didn't get the opportunity to wear braces have expressed their regret for it. And if you do find yourself being bullied because of wearing braces, just know this is a minor sacrifice for a lifelong A list smile.

Hope that clears up any issues or questions you have, if you'd like to know anything else, drop me a comment or a mail!

As a final note- my braces experience is among the most extensive and dramatic. The vast majority of people getting braces will not be facing that much treatment time and unnecessary complications. A lot of my friends got their braces fitted after me and had them removed long before me. Just stick with your appointments and wear whatever aids your orthodontist has told you to.

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