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Thursday, Feb. 26, 2004 03:20 pm

Grace about town 2-26-04

Tooth queen

Feb. 23, 11:41 a.m. I just got my braces off. Life is awash in rosiness.

Way back on New Year's Eve afternoon, during my monthly orthodontist visit, I got my one wish for the new year: He set a date for getting my braces off. The date was Feb. 23, which was in 54 days. This seemed like sort of a long time, but at least a getting-these-thing-off-my-teeth appointment had finally been made.

I got them on May 1, 2002. I will have had them on for one year, nine months and 23 days. One year, nine months, 23 days of eating a meal and at the end having most of it lodged between my braces. One year, nine months, 23 days of tasting metal all the time, of waking up in the morning with my braces imprinted on the inside of my mouth. Ow.

My first braces episode was in junior high. They were especially hideous, and the dentist wasn't quite aware of how to make the things work. The biggest problem is that he pulled three teeth instead of four. My orthodontist says that's why they got uneven, and my bite became very bad.

When I lived in L.A., my dentist informed me that my back bottom molars were loose. I could wiggle them, which was horribly alarming. All because my bite was messed up. He suggested braces. I blanched. I balked. I recoiled. He assured me I'd be glad I did it, people would think more of me because I'm improving my mouth.

Yeah, right.

I had a consultation with an orthodontist in Westwood, a very fancy part of L.A. His office was filled with kids with parents who were diplomats from all over the world. He assured me that if I got the braces in L.A., it would be no problem to transfer when I moved away, unless I was going to deepest Outer Mongolia.

On the morning I got the braces, I looked at the mirror and said good-bye to my teeth. I knew I wouldn't see them again until I moved many states away; it felt like I was putting my teeth into tooth prison.

I moved back to Springfield two months after getting the dreaded braces, and my orthodontist here, Dr. C. William Groesch, is very nice as well as good at his job. I know he never wanted to hurt me (the only man to use that line who I've believed); after some months, he had to "activate" one of the wire bands on my teeth. This involved pulling it taut so the teeth would move more. Full activation was difficult to achieve, because when he'd try to activate the wire, I'd jump out of the chair.

If only I'd been stronger, I'd have dug my nails into the arm of the chair and let him activate away, because maybe I'd have gotten the braces off sooner. But on the other hand, maybe too much activation would have loosened more teeth? I'm not clear on dental procedures; all I know is that my teeth are very very straight now and all of us, me and the teeth, were dying to remove the metal chains. Let my teeth be free.

Going to see Dr. Groesch every month has been interesting, besides the pain. It's usually me and a bunch of kids, plus all the dental assistants, who I think of as "Tooth Girls." The Tooth Girls are all quite cheerful, and have amazingly straight teeth. One of them, Carrie, told me she had braces for six months, but she bugged Dr. Groesch to tighten them all the time so she could get them off sooner. Smart girl, Carrie. Way to beat the pain.

Carrie found out she's known as the "Ortho Nazi" at the school that some junior high patients (boys) attend, because she brushes their teeth for them if they don't do it. They aren't very good at it. I was glad to hear about the poor brushing habits of junior high boys, because it cleared something up for me. There's a gruesome photo on the tray at each dental station, a picture of braces-clad teeth that haven't been brushed properly. They're rotten and gross-looking. This always alarmed me, causing me to spend even more time brushing and flossing (flossing with braces takes approximately 15 hours).

It turns out the photo was for the benefit of the non-tooth-brushing 12-year-old boys, not me. Whew. Carrie said she enjoys talking to adult patients once in a while instead of kids, and she's glad she doesn't have to worry about adults brushing their teeth. I would never think of her as an Ortho Nazi.

Now that my teeth are free, my smile dazzles. I'm going to eat a box of caramels, even though I'm not so crazy about caramels. I'm going to do it just because I can. Life is perfect.


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