Friday, August 26, 2011
ABOVE: Me in August 2011...if you'd seen my smile before, this is a HUGE difference! Sorry for the weird smile, I went as wide as possible so you could see better.
In case you didn't know, I have braces on my teeth...it's a long story...and since so many people ask me about them when they first notice them on my teeth when I talk, I figured I'd lay it all out here and share it with everyone in one place.
***WARNING: LONG POST AHEAD!***
My whole life I've always had healthy and straight(ish) teeth, and when I first told people I was getting braces last year, they didn't understand why. When I was 14 or so, my dentist told my mother after a cleaning that I might want to see an orthodontist, but she ignored his recommendation, and I didn't think anything of it. Over the years, however, I gradually had more issues. I clenched my teeth at night, which led eventually, in my early 20s, to requiring that I wear a nightguard when I slept. My teeth constantly ached and I started to get some hairline cracks in a few molars. I thought this was simply a result of my clenching at night. However, when I was 29, my dentist told me after a cleaning that I should go see an orthodontist since he'd noticed a worsening of my open bite over the 7 years I'd been seeing him. Now, I had no idea what an open bite was, but when he described it to me, I realized I'd had it my whole life and just didn't know any different. Basically, when I would close my jaw and bite down, my front teeth did not touch...there was open space until you got to my pre-molars. He referred me to an orthodontist for a consult...
My orthodontist examined me and took molds and X-rays of my teeth and jaw, studied them, and told me I'd need braces *and* upper jaw surgery! My issues were: the open bite, edge-to-edge biting, a crossbite, and a palate that was too narrow. A normal palate is wider than the lower jaw so that when you bite down, the outer edges of the top teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. Mine were the opposite. Also, because of my misaligned bite, only one tooth on *each* side of my jaw actually touched when I bit down. That meant that every time I bit into something (or clenched my teeth at night), four teeth TOTAL bore all of the pressure of my bite, and in case you didn't know, the human jaw can exert a LOT of pressure when biting down. This was a major cause of my headaches, sore teeth, and cracking teeth.
So, as a 30 year old man, I got full braces put on in April 2010, as well as a palate expander. After some wrangling with my insurance company to cover the insurance (they initially declined the claim from the oral surgeon's office, even though it stated ON THEIR OWN WEBSITE that this procedure was covered, and when it was resubmitted, they accepted without issue. This whole process delayed my surgery from May 2010 until September 2010. And a lot of Americans think we need *MORE* government regulations/oversight on the insurance industry? But that's a topic for another post...).
I had my surgery in September 2010, and let me tell you it was PAINFUL. Well, waking up afterwards and the first week at home were. I had what was called a Lefort 1 Palate-Ostomy (or something like that). Basically, the surgeon sliced through my palate across my gum line (above my teeth) from one side to the other (and through my sinuses), bent it down, and sliced my palate in half (think of a straight line starting at my front teeth and going back toward my throat). He then stitched it all closed where my gums meet my upper lip inside my mouth, so that I would have no scar on the roof of my mouth. He gave my expander the first few cranks and, as per my orthodontist, I needed to turn the expander 3 times a day for 2 weeks. When I woke up, my face was incredibly puffy, swollen, and tender. My nose was 100% clogged with dried blood from cutting through the sinuses (which is completely normal for this type of procedure), and I had a large gap between my front teeth! This last thing was weird for me, since I'd always had nice, tight teeth. My instructions were to go home, sleep, eat only liquid/soft foods for the first 2 weeks, and turn the expander 3 times a day. The surgeon saw me 3 days post-op for a follow-up and said everything looked great and I was recovering very quickly...he was pleased.
I do have to say the recovery, after the first 3-4 days, was actually not bad. I was back at work 6 days after the surgery...face was still swollen and tender but otherwise I was fine. I wouldn't have been at all as successful if it weren't for my amazing wife Kristie, who stayed with me at the hospital, fed me ice cream and crushed popsicles with a spoon in the hospital after I woke up, waited on me hand and foot the first few days, and still managed to take care of our 3 kids, including dropping off and picking up the two oldest at school every day, toting around our toddler son, *AND* she was pregnant with our daughter! I can never thank her enough!!
After expanding for two weeks, I had a HUGE gap between my front teeth, and the width of my palate was so noticeable and different. Kristie mentioned it made my face and smile look different, and she was right...I think it's so much better now! The orthodontist at this point wired the expander shut and told me to come back in 6 weeks after the palate now had a chance to heal and fuse itself back to my skull. Since then, I go see him every 3-6 weeks for adjustments...the expander remained in place until April 2011 (in order to hold the shape of my palate constant), but let me tell you, when it was removed, it was an amazing feeling...that thing was a pain to clean, although by that point I was so used to it that my speaking was normal (when I first got it, it made me sound like I had a speech impediment).
Over the last 9 months, my orthodontic treatment has included twisting my teeth, wire ties, alignment, and powerchains. The gaps in my upper teeth are almost closed...I go back in two weeks for another powerchain, and hopefully it'll take 1 or 2 more to pull the teeth completely together. After that, we'll get down to "fine-tuning" orthodontics...straightening out all of the teeth, lining them up, and fixing my crossbite. The amazing thing is now my bite is correct, my palate is wider than my lower jaw, all of my teeth touch when I bite down, and I have no more open bite! I can touch my front teeth together for the first time in my life, which is a really weird feeling that I'm getting used to, but it looks great, and when I smile I flash a lot more teeth than I used to, which makes me feel more confident. I always used to hate my smile since you only could ever see a small amount of my top teeth when I did. Now, it looks normal and my wife always tells me how much nicer it looks (she always liked it before but I agree with her, it's better now!).
While my teeth can range from being sore to *REALLY REALLY* sore after each adjustment (anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, where I only eat soup and soft foods until the soreness goes away), I'll take that any day over the post-op pain! I'm estimated to have braces for another 12-18 months at this point...obviously that could change, but I know it'll all be worth it in the end!
One huge thing I was worried about when I first got braces was how self-conscious I'd be. Everyone expects kids and teenagers to have braces, but I was a 30 year old professional who was going to have a full on "metal mouth" and felt a bit nervous about that. However, everyone has been really cool about it all. Most people mention that they notice them and ask questions...I don't mind answering people's curiosity about my braces at all. Additionally, since I got my braces, I've noticed a LOT of adults with braces, whether I'm out at a store, restaurant, etc. I'm not sure if more adults have them than before or if I just notice them more, but it definitely lets me know I'm not as "rare" as I thought to have them!
Plus, my daughters think they're cool and want to get them when they're older (if they only knew...) and I let them pick the color of my elastics every time I get an adjustment...my only rule is no pink or purple!
THE WORST PART OF HAVING BRACES? Cleaning them! When I started out, it took me a good 20 minutes...now that I'm used to it, I can clean and brush in about 5-7 minutes. I clean after every meal, and my routine is: first, I clean between every bracket with a proximal brush, then I floss with threader floss between each bracket, and then I brush, being careful to get on the underside of each bracket to make sure I get everything. It's a bit of a hassle but every cleaning I've had since getting braces, my dentist has told me I'm one of the few people whose teeth are just as clean with braces as without, so clearly it's worth it!
I'm sorry if this post is too long or boring...maybe it's a bit self-indulgent but I wanted to share this, especially since so many people have asked me about the whole process/experience over the last year and a half. I'm always happy to answer any questions so have at it!