Owen has crooked teeth.
Basically, his two bottom front teeth are in front of each other instead of next to each other, resulting in certain esthetic deficiencies as well as the practical problem of how to keep the corn from lodging between them at a barbeque.
Our dentist noticed this quite a long time ago. In fact, the day in kindergarten that I brought Owen in for his first evaluation and cleaning the Doctor shook his head and advised me to start saving my pennies for braces.
In fact, several months ago when I last brought the kids in for cleanings, I was advised in no uncertain terms that THIS was the time to take him to the orthodontist. It seemed a bit early to me, as Owen has only lost 3 of his baby teeth, but times change I guess. Early intervention works in education, so why not in dental engineering?
Even so, the very thought of bringing Owen into the den of the dreaded orthodontist shredded my heart. I had no desire to inflict on my son the social stigma, physical pain and esthetic disruption associated with the installation of assorted metal hardware into his mouth.
I remember the tales I had been told in the period before I learned the reality behind the metalmouth myths. The pain…the suffering…the total deprivation of all things chewing gum related.
The truth, as I experienced it, was much less sordid. The wax that they gave you to cover the sharp bits of the studs was very well suited for sculpture, and was fun to chew during class. The tiny rubber bands were wonderful for securing the tips of tiny braids, and if you were exceptionally skilled you could hook one end of a band around a single stantion, covertly draw it back so that rubber band would become a tiny projectile capable of sailing an impressive distance.
About the only thing that lived up to the horror of the tales was the night brace. I, like every other person I have ever spoken to about this private night time torture of youth, hated that horrible contraption. I tried to wear it, but inevitably I would forget to put it on at bedtime or I would take it off in my sleep. Considering that my teeth became straight despite my non-compliance I imagine that its true benefits were considerably overrated.
Even more serious was the fact that the thought of paying large sums of money to make Owen’s mouth even larger consistently made me break out in hysterical giggles. Not a good situation in which to start a professional relationship with a new medical office.
In the end, it took me about 6 months to get it together enough to actually make the call, despite the numerous reminders I left for myself scrawled on sticky notes stuck to my computer monitor or scrawled large with double underlines in bright yellow chalk on the kitchen blackboard.
When I told him that I had made an appointment for him, I expected him to be reluctant, or perhaps a bit scared, but he was fairly calm about the whole thing almost seeming to look forward to the new adventure. It was not the reaction I was expecting, but I went with it, assuming that he did not have enough background to have developed a scary scenario for himself.
So it was that I was more nervous that Owen when I brought him in for his initial evaluation.
Bracing for the worst (so to speak) I held his hand as we walked through the door. Just inside the door, greeting us before we even laid eyes on the receptionist, was a pair of arcade style video games sans coin slots. As predictably as any dog in Pavlov’s lab, Owen smiled and drifted towards them with thumbs outstretched as I walked to the receptionist’s desk to check in.
Sitting behind the desk was a woman with the whitest, straightest teeth I had ever seen. I wondered if the office required a dental evaluation as part of an application for employment, and if denial of employment due to an overbite would be considered discrimination under current law.
As Owen played some games, she sat me down in a graciously appointed office to sign papers and give me the orientation talk. Her coverage of the nuts and bolts of the procedure consisted primarily of some vague gestures towards the model teeth. I felt my heart begin to sink as she spent a significantly longer period of time covering the financial aspects of the arrangement. I was startled to find out that she possessed an incredibly detailed understanding not only of how dental insurance worked in general but also knew off the top of her head the specifics of how my particular type of coverage worked in particular.
Braces are expensive. This was not a surprise to me. What was a surprise, however, was that this office did not work on the pay-per-office-visit model that the rest of the medical community operates under. Instead, they work more like an auto body shop. An estimate is given, the work is done, and then the bill gets paid.
As she wrapped up the orientation talk with a bit about follow-up care, she slipped in the fact that she was 48 years old and that she still wore her retainer every night. I am not entirely sure I needed to know this about her, but it certainly explained the almost eerie perfection of her smile.
The orientation talk done, Owen and I were led into the office for our tour. The office consisted of a row of standard dental examination chairs, each facing a flat screen television displaying a current movie piped in from Netflix, and I was told that even though all the screens play the same movie, they will take requests.
I also learned that the braces themselves have had a 21st century makeover. Instead of the standard gunmetal grey, today’s brackets are now fastened to the ever present wire with tiny colored bands that are available in a rainbow of colors, can be installed in an infinite variety of color combinations and patterns and are easily changed to suit the chromatic whim of the proud brace-ee.
There were two chairs occupied in the office on the day we were there. One, we were told was a young man getting his braces off. It went without saying that this was an important day in the life of any self-conscious adolescent. The other chair held a young girl who was getting her braces put on.
I received a blinding sliver of a smile from our guide as she indicated the chair that held the girl with the newly minted metal smile and told me that this girl has been looking forward to the day she would get her braces since her older sister first got hers. She paused after this announcement to look at me expectantly, which good because I had stopped in my tracks as I processed this last comment.
Owen had drifted back to the video game as the tour and exam wrapped up. As I peeled the controller from his hand on the way out the door, he looked up at me, and with the light of excitement in his eyes asked me when we would be coming back.
Complete reversal of orthodontically related urban lore and public opinion in a single generation.
Years of propaganda and market research seem to have finally paid off….although Owen would probably say that it was just the video games.