Kristin K. Fouquet
© Copyright 2001 by Kristin K. Fouquet
Orthodontics, according to Webster's dictionary, is the branch of dentistry dealing with the prevention and correction of irregular teeth, as by means of braces. Yes, irregular teeth: horrible, crooked gapped deformed teeth existing in the only natural way the DNA has instructed them to behave. They were just listening to the man, right? Those irregular teeth are in for a surprise. Dr. H. will have them lining up straight like little soldiers, after torturing them into submission through years of relentless metal bondage.
Yes, I had braces in childhood, three separate and uniquely painful times. My baby dental records still possess the power to horrify even the most seasoned of dental professionals. It seems my dental blueprints had a little bit of a glitch in them. Four teeth were only destined to have baby teeth and four other teeth would be bestowed with a heaping serving of two sets of adult teeth. So, if it were not for the wizardry of orthodontics, my smile would reveal four noticeable gaps and four teeth that had an unwanted twin piggy-backing over them. I certainly wouldn't have made the dance team with my original snaggleteeth.
I got my first set of braces when I was two-and-a-half years old. My mother held my hand as we ascended a magnificent marble and mahogany staircase. The sheer beauty of the building put me at ease. In the waiting room, I stared at a photograph of a beautiful bride smiling and showing off a dazzling full set of braces. I was enchanted. When the dentist was finished, he gave me a hand-held mirror. I inspected the four single braces, two on top and two on the bottom with a rubber band holding each upper and lower set together. I frowned. As I waved my childish hand over my mouth, I exclaimed, "But, I wanted mucha." I was crushed. I, of course, wanted railroad tracks like the beautiful bride. Little did I know then that my dream of a full metallic smile would be realized in just a few short years.
Just to break up the wait, a couple of years later I had to undergo another type of oral surgery. It seems that my frenulum of the lips or labialis oris, which is that little flap of tissue that hinges the top gum to the upper lip, began growing between my two front teeth. These big teeth of mine were fine, not causing any trouble, when this scoundrel tissue snakes its way between them causing an enviable gap (I could spit a long stream of water through them to the delight of my fellow peers). But to my disappointment, I was told that the tissue needed to be cut off and quickly before it caused further damage. After enduring two painful shots in the gums, which seemed to produce no anesthetic state, I had to sit through the operation, a frenectomy (doesn't it just sound scary?), gripping the arms of the dentist's chair with tears streaming down my face. This was a meager appetizer to the pain I would undergo in the coming years.
A few short years later, I met Dr. H., the disco bachelor orthodontist. He seemed quite keyed up at the prospect of such a challenging case. Dr. H. smiled at me like a hairdresser that has just learned that the girl with the hair down to her butt wants it cut short. His esteemed plan was to move all of my teeth together; a plan that spelled out a half decade long alliance and quite a bit of dough. My father read, then signed an extensive contract and wrote out a hefty check. The first move was to strain as many of the teeth together. This, of course, required braces. These were to be the mere preliminary braces, a taste of things to come. When they were removed, I didn't have to see Dr. H. for a short while.
It was time for move two, pull the eight rogue teeth: the four baby teeth and the four adult teeth, out. This was my first experience with nitrous oxide and I thought the removing of my teeth was absolutely hilarious. Annoying stitches were put in their place. These black web like stitches trapped food with every bite. When it was finally safe for the stitches to be removed, I didn't want to wait for a dentist's appointment. I was weary of using two toothpicks to gingerly pick out old food particles wrapped up in those treacherous threads. My compassionate father yanked the miserable things out with his handy pliers. Now it was time to just sit back and wait to see what would come up out of my suffering gums.
To my relief, the second set of adult teeth grew in quite nicely. The next move was to push all the teeth in the direction of my front teeth. Remember that I still had four gaps from the pulling out of orphaned baby teeth. For example, people with regular teeth tend to have a tooth that separates their incisors from their canines; I do not. My canines were slammed up next to my two upper incisors after the magic of braces. (As a teenager, I considered filing the canines so that the resulting fangs would resemble a snake. Ah, youth!) So, anyway, with new adult teeth in and nearly eight years in the waiting, I was finally rewarded with my coveted railroad tracks. Excruciating years followed with embarrassing headgear, nagging rubber bands, wax to ease painful sticking wires, cranky hygienists, cruel classmates, and loud, loud disco music.
Dr. H. ran this swank orthodontics office in a convenient suburban strip mall. The shiny wallpaper was striped with alternating dull gray and bright mirrored strips. I would imagine the room transforming into a disco nightclub after dark, equipped with a mirrored disco ball that was lowered from some ingenious trap door in the ceiling. I pictured flashing multi-colored lights and my orthodontist dressed to the nines and trying out some Travolta-like moves in his own private Boogie Wonderland. The office disco music was always up loud enough to dance to but I never actually saw anyone try to cut a rug (or in this case, gray shag carpet). Dr. H. had groovy shoulder length hair. He wore polyester bell-bottoms, open dress shirts to display his manly chest hair adorned with gold chains, and brown ankle length boots. Dr. H. was the disco doctor. He could've easily been mistaken for one of The Bee Gees.
Dr. H.'s assistants were all attractive--very attractive--suspiciously attractive young women. I often wondered, as I waited in the queue clutching my file folder, if those gorgeous assistants had actually gone to school or if Dr. H. had personally trained each and every one of them with the private instruction the position warranted. They had perfectly feathered back hair; I spent hours, months, years of my preteen life trying to achieve that same effect with hairspray and a curling iron to no avail. Did they all go to the same hairdresser before reporting for work? Often, one would call Dr. H. over for assistance. He would bend over her assessing the work, muttering some technique, and then he would linger for a second to smell her perfect hair. Gee, I bet it smelled terrific.
Another curious feature was their apparel. They wore different outfits on different days but they, all six of them, were always dressed identically. Each day of the week, they wore a new combination of bold colors, patterns, and fabrics. I would wonder about their clothes. Did the orthodontic assistants go shopping together on the weekends? Or did Dr. H. go shopping for them? Would I one day catch him in the mall picking out six short red skirts, six tight black blouses, and six gold ankle bracelets? Six sexy assistants in matching attire; this was Dr. H.'s harem. I began to worry over their job security, though. I started to wonder if he would keep the same assistants over time or if he would retire them when they were getting too many miles on them. Did they have a contract that would be considered breached if they gained weight or let their hair go? What kind of requirements would he state in an ad he might place for the position in the employment section of the newspaper? Would there be an endless succession of young stunning dental assistants in Dr. H.'s future?
Disco blaring, we, kids with irregular teeth, would line up on the back wall, nervously watching the previous contingent squirming on the gray vinyl reclining sofas. Dr. H. had two of these sofas, one on either side of him. Between them, he had a square of Plexiglas pressing the gray shag carpet down like deceased worms. This enabled him to roll on his wheeled, back-less stool from one mouth to the other, like his own personal dance floor. A very small chrome sink was fitted there also, just to keep things sanitary. After his skilled fingers had violated your helpless teeth and gums, Dr. H. would scribble something in your file folder and direct you to one of his lovely ladies.
There, we would recline on one of the gray vinyl sofas with terror in our eyes as the beautiful assistant worked frantically. She would ignore our visual cues, desperate silent pleas to stop the torment. We were not human to her; we were just another set of teeth, our mouths hideously held open by transparent plastic clamps. She continued with an unstoppable fury: pulling, prying, gluing, wiring, tightening, and finally cutting off the excess wire. When the torture had ceased a wince and a mumbled "Thank you" was all that could be mustered. Then, back to Dr. H. where he carefully inspected the work. It was then good-bye until next time, which would be a week later just when the pain was beginning to subside.
When my final set of braces was removed, I was fitted for retainers. The top retainer fit snugly on the roof of my mouth and wrapped around my front upper teeth. It could be removed easily with my tongue and I was only required to wear it at bedtime, no sweat, and just some nightly unconscious pain. However, I did have a recurring dream for years about dying in a vise.
The second retainer was a permanent one consisting of a wire pulled across the back of my bottom front teeth and fastened by brackets that were cemented on the end teeth. That was finally the last step, the day I had dreamed about for many years. It was all over; it was the end of a long and painful relationship with Dr. H. and his lovely cohorts. My teeth were beautiful and were destined to be perfectly straight for the remainder of my lifetime. All was peachy until the first time I bit into an ear of corn. I, not being a true masochist, decided to keep quiet about the corn incident and the resulting bent bottom retainer.
A year later, my bottom
teeth were noticeably slightly crooked. My father inquired and after several
failed attempts at evasion, I was forced to fess up about the corn incident.
My father was an understanding, practical man and he removed the bent retainer
and the brackets with his handy pliers. After spending many years listening
to his children complain about the agony of braces and thousands and thousands
of dollars spent on them, I can't say I blamed him for wanting to be finished
with the whole damn business.
|So, my teeth are a
little crooked on the bottom, which is just fine in my
book. I think
they look more natural than a gleaming set of perfectly
straight pearly whites.
I am eternally grateful to my father for his keen
foresight and for
correcting what could have been a smile-less lifetime
of shame. I do occasionally
experience a tinge of guilt, though. I'm kind
of sorry I marred
one of Dr. H.'s masterpieces of dentistry. Long live
the disco doctor.
(Messages are forwarded
by The Preservation Foundation.
Kristin's Story List and Biography