Getting Braces in Adulthood

About six weeks ago, I had train-track braces fitted. Although apparently adults getting braces fitted (I’m 31) is becoming more common, there still isn’t a huge amount of information about it. This rather over-informative blog is all the things I’ve noticed over my first month and a half.

In my case, it wasn’t purely for aesthetic reasons. I still had two baby teeth in my top jaw, as the adult teeth never appeared. A few dentists over the years have made vague noises about me having something done about it, but this year my hand was forced as the gum over one of the baby teeth was starting to recede, causing a lot of sensitivity. As a couple of the front teeth on my top jaw are very crooked, the consensus was that I should have the baby teeth removed, and use the opportunity to straighten the others out.

Different kinds of braces and the psychological effects

A lot of noise is made about Invisalign, clear plastic braces which fit over the teeth and are almost invisible to others. They weren’t a good option for me, mainly because I had to have teeth removed. Apparently, you also have to take them out every time you drink a hot drink, and clean your teeth before putting them back on. They’re also slower than ordinary braces, and as an extremely impatient person, my priority was getting it sorted as quickly as possible.

I have ceramic braces on my top teeth, which are almost white in appearance so not very obvious. The wire is metal, because with white wires, often the white starts coming off so then you have an attractive mottled appearance. People claim that ceramic braces stain easily, but that isn’t the case – the clear rubber bands on them do stain, and they are a little more obvious against white brackets than metal ones. But as the rubber bands are replaced every time the brace is adjusted, and you can have them replaced more often if they’re really bothering you, they aren’t much of an issue. I stained my rubber bands within a few hours of leaving the orthodontist’s office, by having tomato soup. Red wine doesn’t really affect them, but anything tomato based, and anything with turmeric in it, will stain them slightly. You can’t really tell unless you’re six inches away from my face anyway.

I have metal braces on my bottom teeth, because metal is softer than ceramic and with ceramic bottom braces there’s a danger that they can start damaging the bottom of your top teeth. I had the bottom braces put on about five weeks after the top ones, and the metal was a real shock after having ceramic ones on.

Braces in general, but especially metal braces, are such a common cultural shorthand for someone being super ugly that psychologically, getting braces is very difficult. Seeing yourself in the mirror is demoralising, especially because picking food and dental wax out of your braces is a revolting task. I am pretty disgusted by myself on a daily basis.

Add to that psychological barrier the physical discomfort, and getting braces has been a real knock to my self-esteem. You’re always aware of braces, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sleeping is uncomfortable, especially on your side (and I struggle to sleep on my back) but even if you’re not lying on the braces, you’ll wake up with your lips and cheeks stuck to them and have a painful moment unsticking them first thing. The only thing that helps with this is dental wax, which you can stick to the teeth and wires which catch on your cheeks. After a few days the skin inside your mouth will toughen up, but until then, it’s extremely uncomfortable. Hopefully the skin will toughen before putting on the wax and feeling it with your tongue starts making you feel sick – imagine having a piece of pastry moulded round a tooth and you’ll have an idea of how nasty it feels.

Eating

Getting braces has made me realise just how much I love food. I already knew I enjoyed eating, but having it made into a daily struggle – what to eat, when, how, in front of whom – has made me even more aware of how much of my happiness is derived from food.

For the first few days after getting braces fitted, or after getting teeth taken out, all I could eat was soup and yoghurt. A great deal of the ready-made soup you can buy is bad. Oh hi, tasteless cubes of potato and carrot floating in a slightly oily broth. It’s also almost impossible to get soup which doesn’t have lumps in it, so I’ve been putting soup in the blender to avoid chewing or risk getting bits of food stuck in the gaps left by my teeth. Thank goodness for Covent Garden chicken soup, which actually tastes nice – and doesn’t stain my braces.

The list of foods I can’t eat is pretty long. The first phase of my braces was to move my top front teeth forward, to make space for the bottom brace, so those teeth were incredibly tender and biting down on anything at all – even something super soft – was impossible. No sandwiches, no burgers, no bagels, no toast. No chocolate bars, especially not my beloved Toffee Crisps. Case in point: I’m writing this in a café, and I bought what looked like a nice soft cookie – only to find after paying £2.70 for it that it’s not soft enough for me to eat right now.

For a while after each change – braces on or teeth out – eating was taking so long that I’d feel full before I was done and end up eating less than normal, which then meant I felt hungry a few hours later, and once I get really hungry, I feel sick and can’t eat anything anyway. A combination of that, and eating a lot of soup, and no longer eating a Kit Kat or a tiny Toffee Crisp at work most days, is that I’ve lost about half a stone in the first month of having braces. This isn’t really a good or a bad thing – I didn’t need to lose weight but neither am I dangerously thin for losing half a stone – but I hope it doesn’t continue as I’ve just thrown out all the jeans I’ve grown out of in the last year, and I don’t want to have to buy any more.

Cleaning teeth

You have to clean your teeth three times a day, once after each meal. It’s pretty dull, especially if you have to try and clean them in a public bathroom at a restaurant. Motion sensor taps are the bane of my life. While it’s instinctive to know where to put your hands to turn on a motion sensor tap, sticking your head under the faucet doesn’t seem to have the same magic. You feel like a total idiot trying to get the water to run so you can rinse your mouth out, hoping that nobody walks in while you’re doing it. It was also giggle when a woman walked in with several small children, who started stage-whispering “WHY IS THAT LADY CLEANING HER TEETH?” and staring at me while I pretended to be nonchalant, and invisible.

Dealing with other people

The best way to eat when you have braces is at home, by yourself, preferably while watching a television show or reading a book so you don’t get incredibly bored waiting for yourself to get to the end of a meal. Eating in public, especially in a one-on-one conversation, is tiring, tedious and uncomfortable. Especially when the braces have just gone on, eating takes forever because your teeth are too sore for you to put pressure on them properly. You’ll constantly be stopping to try and dislodge food from between your brackets, or more commonly, from above or below the braces. Doing all this while someone is sitting opposite you, probably finishing their meal in about a third of the time, expecting you to contribute to conversation when all your focus is on eating without choking, is exhausting. It does improve after the first week, but it continues to be tedious.

People are naturally curious about my braces, and as they take up so many of my thoughts, I’m happy to complain about them to whoever will listen (if you’re still reading this, I’m impressed). However, there’s a fine line between someone being politely inquisitive, and someone being so fixated on them that it just makes me self-conscious. A tip: try not to stare. Especially if they’ve only just had them put on and are still hoping that people just won’t notice. I spend a lot of time smiling behind my hand at the moment, and have to have had a few drinks before I’ll laugh without covering my face – and even then, I’m aware that I’m not covering my face, and wondering if I should be.

Although I’ve seen plenty of pictures of people with braces, most commonly in the dentist’s office, I didn’t realise until I had my own put on that we only see pictures of braces on teeth that are already straight. Seeing braces jammed awkwardly on your own crooked teeth is a bit of a surprise, and not a good one. It’s a bit like adverts for women’s razors, with women shaving an already beautifully smooth leg. These braces are so good, as soon as they’re on, your teeth will be straight! The second you pick up this razor, the hair on your legs will fall off! I had to google lots of ‘before and after’ pictures of people with braces to reassure myself that I didn’t look any worse than I should.

Time

As previously mentioned, I’m an incredibly impatient person. My orthodontist said that I’ll have the braces on for about 18 months, which I’m very much hoping wasn’t a lie to hook me in. Other people who’ve had braces say that 18 months is pretty quick, and everyone says things about it being ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’ and ’18 months is so short! The time will fly by!’ To me, however, 18 months is not short term. A week, or a few months, is short term. 18 months is already long term. Long term pain for even longer-term gain. Also, the time is definitely not flying by.

It would probably be easier if I’d been really unhappy with my teeth beforehand, but although occasionally I felt self-conscious about them, in general they didn’t bother me that much. My orthodontist was not buying this when I went for my consultation – no matter how many times I told him that I was there because the baby teeth were causing issues, he kept asking me to rate how happy I was with my smile, or how self-conscious they made me. It was quite irritating, this assumption that I must want perfect Hollywood teeth. Perhaps when it’s all done and I see what they look like, it will all be worth it. I’m certainly very aware of other people’s teeth now, and how straight nearly all of them are, so it will be nice to be part of that club.

I’m also aware (although the constant moaning of this post won’t have shown it) that I’m very lucky to be able to afford this kind of orthodontic work. It’s extremely expensive and I know that many people who need it even more than me aren’t able to have it. I’m also lucky, in a sense, not to have had them when I was younger – nearly everyone I’ve spoken to who had braces when they were a teenager didn’t wear their retainers and now their teeth are moving back. Some have had a second round of braces and many others are considering it. At least I know I will only do this once, with whatever wisdom I’ve gained from being in my 30s, and being able to see the long-term gain of getting it done and then doing the work of maintaining them, too.

Hopefully soon I’ll some better news about the self-consciousness, and the eating restrictions, and the pain. I’ve seen that other people do a kind of photo diary, but I didn’t think to take pictures of my teeth before the braces went on. My orthodontist did, for his own hall of fame records, so I’ll be able to compare with those, but I doubt they’re pictures I’ll want to show anyone else. I’m tempted to take pictures of how the braces look today, to compare with the future – but, at the same time, I’d rather not see any pictures of them at all.

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