River Dad ~ Tooth and Consequences

I am missing two teeth. They weren’t knocked out by a scorching line drive or kicked out in a fight, I simply never had them. A genetic whoop-si-doo decided that I would go through life with 30 permanent teeth rather than the expected 32. I blame my parents.

But this defect is neither here nor there.  In addition to this, or for all I know because of it, my baby teeth took their own sweet time coming in – to the point where when I was beginning the 8th grade my parents and my sadistic dentist decided to rip any remaining baby teeth from my mouth.

So I was brought to Dr. Slaughter (I kid you not), told to count backwards from 100, and when I reached 98 I woke up to find eight of my teeth sitting in a tray – only six of which would eventually be replaced.

So you guessed it – I wore braces for a couple of years. I also had to wear head gear at night. You remember the head gear from the 80’s, don’t you? It was a diabolical torture device that pulled your teeth back until you looked like that freaky-looking woman in the movie Brazil, and caused untold amounts of pain during the night so that sleep was impossible.

Even with the braces, those two missing teeth are very prominently missing on either side of my front teeth.  And ever since, I have been physically incapable of smiling. Seriously. You will never find a single photo where I am smiling. Instead, my Facebook timeline is littered with hundreds of photos in which I am grinning. Sometime I grin big, sometimes I grin small, and sometimes I’m obviously forcing it, but it is always my trademark grin.

Recently, our children’s dentist suggested that we take one of my offspring to see an orthodontist, because while we’ve been losing baby teeth at an acceptable rate, the spaces in this kid’s mouth where I have no teeth, have been hanging around a bit longer than would be expected…and there was some… I would not say concern, more like curiosity. Naturally, I feared the worst. My child was missing teeth, just like me. My child would be submitted to the hell of braces, just like me. My child would undergo excruciatingly painful dental procedures, just like me. My child would grin for the rest of his life, just like me.

In truth, I was a bit let down when we arrived at the orthodontist’s office. It was pleasant, friendly, and inviting. Where were the ominous, stainless steel cutting implements hanging from the ceiling that I remembered from my youth? Where were the unending cries of horror coming from the children in other rooms? The assistant smiled warmly and brought us back into the workroom without snickering, cackling, or leering evilly even once.

Assuming it was all a very devious trap, I readied my kid to flee at a moment’s notice. Here was the plan: as soon as I called out our code word (banana), River Kid was to run out the door screaming in an attempt to confuse our captors while I took on the Orthodontist himself – who would no doubt come at me with some lethal form of headgear.

But rather than being a menacing hulk wearing a bloody apron, the guy seemed nice. Cool, even. Sure, maybe he was playing the long game, but I was starting to consider the possibility that braces and orthodontic work were not what they once were. That they might, in fact, not be the life-scarring tribulation they had been in my youth.

That didn’t seem fair.

I had a moment of hope when we approached the Uncomfortable Dental Chair, but that hope was quickly dashed when my child hopped up into it with a smile. It was comfortable, and did not appear to be hooked up to any sort of electric shock system that I could see. The doctor inspected the teeth spread out beneath his steady gaze and my child did not howl in pain one single time. Then, after it was decided that x-rays were needed, my child simply stood in the center of this contraption straight out of Star Trek. I was aghast. Dental X-rays are supposed to involve biting down on those cardboard squares for twenty seconds at a time until your gums bleed.

Had dentistry gone soft on me?

I later asked the suspiciously-nice orthodontist how often he made kids wear headgear and he actually laughed, saying he hadn’t used one of those in years.

By now, my entire worldview on braces had been turned on its head. When I wore them, braces were a sign of eternal shame. Your teeth were unsightly, and you were punished by wearing the Rusty Checkerboard of Doom in your mouth. Braces came in one color – gun-metal grey. They also came in one size – extra pain. People strapped you down and held your mouth open so they could listen to the ballgame off your braces. All of your food was eaten through a straw. Former friends pretended not to know you, and you would eventually join the other metal mouths in the corner of the lunch room, where you sat praying the lunch period would end before someone chose to torment you.

Today braces are a fashion statement. Getting braces is a celebration. When one kid gets them, all his or her friends start bugging Mom and Dad for their own set. You can choose from a rainbow of colors. And all the while there is no pain. How are kids today supposed to appreciate straight teeth if they haven’t suffered for them?

It’s enough to drive a Gen-X-er insane.

The end result of my child’s examination was that braces may well not be needed after all, that those two teeth I’ve gone through life without were both right there in his gums, and that we might need something called a palate-expander to allow them to come down, which sounds pretty terrible, but I’m assured it is not. I am relieved that braces are not needed at this time, even if my child is a little disappointed.

To be certain, we are not out of the woods yet. There still remains the possibility of braces in my family’s future and I may yet be forced to accept a world where my child is thrilled to wear them. But until that day comes, I will hang on to the memory of the ungodly horror that braces were in the 1980’s, as well as the shame and agony they caused, just as God intended. And if I begin to forget, I’ll go upstairs into the attic and unpack my headgear.

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