Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A brief history of orthodontic hell

I just got all four wisdom teeth out and was reminded of the last time I faced off against mouth molesters.

I have a completely rational terror of orthodontists.

Or, for that matter, dentists, oral surgeons, periodontists, any sort of man in my mouth (heh heh.)

Non-mouth doctors don't give me the slightest shiver. Draw my blood? Cool, I wanna watch. Remove a tumor on my shoulder? Cool, show it to me. Put my feet up in stirrups and scrape me? Well, no one really enjoys that but it doesn't scare me. Stick your hands in my mouth?

Oh, hell no.

I had some really busted teeth as a wee R. Grace. Lil Watz so kindly described my mouth as "looking like a mangrove swamp." For those who've never ventured to Indonesia, mangroves are known for their gnarled, twisted roots jutting out from the murky, silty waters. If that wasn't enough, Lil Watz often compared me to a babirusa, a southeast Asian deer-pig with giant curling tusks that grow up over its lips and make it foul-tempered.

I think what I love most about my brother is his sweetness.

Needless to say, I started getting my mouth fixed as soon as my adult teeth barely got rooted in their jagged place.

First, I had a plastic night guard with a scary metal bar across the teeth. It did little good besides adding to the litany of reasons I could barely sleep at night as a young lass. X-rays reveals the holy grail of ugly ducklingdom: an overbite AND a retracted lower jaw. Overbite times two. Ooog-ly. When I hit the ripe age of ten, the orthodontist of my hometown said in no uncertain terms that the only way to fix my jaw was to break it. Intensive surgery to break my lower jaw, set it, and wire it in place for two months.

Breast implants would have been less complicated.

There I stood, trying to be a poised, interested young adult, having a mean old man tell me he was going to break my face. And weave it shut with wires. I listened to the list of things I wouldn't be able to do with my jaw wired shut in horror. How would I eat? What if I got a stomach bug? How would I answer all the questions in class? And the most terrible thought of all...

What if finally, finally the boy across the street realized I was the most perfect girl in the world and he wanted to kiss me?

I couldn't kiss a boy with my face all broken and bruised and wired shut.

I mean, gross.

Clearly I had my priorities straight as a pre-tween. I started sobbing in the orthodontist's office. Nuclear meltdown sobs, full body hysterical heaving and hyperventilating. I was so ugly. So ugly they were going to having to rip my face apart and make me even uglier (with the vague promise of the perfect smile somewhere in the hazy future. Like when I was fiften? That was SO OLD, god). This was just, without a doubt, the end of the world. And to top it off, I was not "using my grownup manners" in front of an adult. The horror.

Lady Mother dragged me out and I never saw that mean old man again. I hope they tarred and feathered him.

Then we moved to ~a bigger city~ and the torture began anew.

My new dentist is a wonderful man, actually. Quite jovial, the typical reminders to floss more and that I should probably get my wisdom teeth out before they started causing me problems (the second piece of advice I didn't follow because I was a teenager and therefore invincible. Yeah yeah yeah, he told me so. And if I ever eat mashed potatoes again I might start sobbing.) but a nice chap. Then, there was my orthodontist.

He scared the bejezus out of me before he even opened his perfectly clean and shiny mouth. He looked like the sort of elderly gentleman that would invite you and your wacky friends to his abandoned mansion for a dinner party, and if you could survive the night you would win a million dollars. But your chances were slim. Or maybe I just associate people with large, perfectly white teeth with homicidal tendencies. Whatever. He also possessed the most frightening eyebrows I have ever seen, at least half an inch thick and snow white. Like fuzzy wuzzy caterpillars... from hell.

So Dr. M as we shall call him, diagnosed me, yet again, as clinically ugly. There's probably a medical term for it, but that's the gist of things. Once Lady Mother told him in no uncertain terms that they were not breaking my jaw, he devised an equally vile plan: front braces and the Herbst appliance.

As a side note, until just now when I looked it up on the internet, I thought it was "Herps" appliance. I got so many "HA HA YOU HAVE HERPS-ES" because pronunciation is a lost art in North Carolina. Sorry 'bout it, ya'll.

Herps-es. Heh heh.

The Herbst appliance, probably invented during the Spanish Inquisition alongside the Rack and Thumbscrews, is a medieval torture device forced and screwed into a young tween's mouth to push their lower jaw forward and make them rue the day they were born. It looks somewhat like a set of shock absorbers, with poles that kept coming disconnected and trapping food in your gums for centuries. It's truly hideous, and can be tightened and rescrewed to slowly force the jaw farther and farther forward. It puffs out your cheeks slightly and makes you talk with a lisp.

If you think I'm exaggerating, search for "herps appliance" on the internet and the first thing that comes up is a Yahoo Question asking if it will cause permanent facial deformities.

It really is THAT BAD.

The date was set in stone. I signed the contract (probably in blood), was informed of the potential consequences (severe and irreparable trauma to the social life), ate my last meal, said my prayers and goodbye to my loved ones and...

Dr. M had a heart attack.

He was running a marathon or whatever mouth torturers do for fun and his heart gave out. The day before my appointment.


Or at least, granted a short reprieve. Six weeks later, he was fully healed (probably because he was part robot) and ready to give me a double dose of misery to make up for my few weeks of extra freedom. Installing the hardware took over and hour and a half of drills, screwdrivers, and wedges of metal shoving and prodding throughout my tiny tween mouth while I lay there, fully conscious and writhing in misery. In the midst of the pain, and blood running down the sides of my mouth, and the air-sucker thing stuck on my tongue shriveling it to the size of a small prune, I fixated on one shining goal in my delusional mind.

I was going to get a slice of pepperoni pizza after this.

I emerged from the operation bruised and battleworn. I met Lady Mother in the lobby, eyes red from tears and mouth red from caked-on blood. I made my request firm and clear. I was going to have a slice of pizza. It was the one glorious hope that kept me going through the pain. I was determined.

"PEEETHHAA." I demanded with a heavy lisp, reopening the few clotted sections as blood probably ran down my face in little rivulets. Lady Mother tried to protest, make me see reason, but I kept repeated PEETHA loudly and more bloodily until she gave up and drove me to the mall's food court.

It was the most painful eating experience of my life. I think I cried with every bite. But I finished the whole damn thing.

I then ate mush for the rest of the week.

At least the worst was over now. The pain only came briefly during "tightening" sessions, where they screwed my lower jaw forward. I could eat whatever I wanted, as long as I could unhinge the bars and scoop out the food caught along my cheeks. The teasing was brutal as I rode the bus with some of the cruelest and stupidest specimens of humanity. My hopes of kissing a boy withered and died. Some day this fugly duckling would turn into a swan... when I was fifteen and an old wizened spinster, past my prime and only able to wistfully look back on the days of my youth. But the worst had passed.

Until they went to remove the appliance.

Dr. M and his lovely aide (who remains one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met in my life) went to work. The glue holding the appliance to my teeth had to be drilled off. Mini-chainsaws, mini-drills, about three-air suckers, pliers, and so many hands in my mouth. I might have had a major freak out.

It might have been such a bad freakout that twenty minutes in, we had to "take a short break" with the appliance dangling partially out of my mouth, because I was crying so hard I was starting to hyperventilate they couldn't work.

I got my shit together and went back under the knife. I begged forgiveness for whatever atrocities I'd committed to deserve this fate. I steeled myself against the pain, the chipping and whirring and drilling against my teeth and gums until... a sharp, blinding agony spiraled into the soft flesh on the underside of my tongue.

Yes, my tongue is awesome. I can touch both my nose and the underside of my chin with it. So maybe it takes up a lot of space in my mouth and maybe it can be super wiggly, like alien arm syndrome of the mouth. But suddenly it was under attack. The drill had slipped and plowed right into my tongue.

I tried to make distressed sounds to alert the doctor and attendant that I was in more than the usual you-are-destroying-my-face pain. I was surprised they didn't worry about the extra blood gushing out, burning like the fires of a thousand suns. I might have heard a grunt to stop wiggling so much. I couldn't even fixate on pizza. I prayed the next time the drill slipped it would be through the roof of my mouth, destroying my brain and putting my misery to an end.

I somehow emerged from the removal alive, though not without permanent emotional scarring. The orthodontist left in a huff, probably to terrorize some other small child. I meekly told the assistant that my tongue hurt, and asked if she could look at it.

"Oh, honey, it's probably just the usual bumps and and bruises." I then lifted my tongue to show her the mangled, oozing underside.

"OH GOD, I mean, ummm, oh honey, let me get you some numbing cream and pain medicine." The color drained from her face and she returned with roughly ten tubes of ora-gel and a handful of individually-wrapped aspirin. You know it's bad when the people in charge look horrified.

I went home after applying enough numbing gel to make me a drooling idiot, and pulled my tongue up in front of the mirror to survey the destruction. Sure enough, there was a deep pit in the underside of my tongue, covered in a tough white fleshy scab. Apparently tongues are similar to starfish, and it mostly grew back.

I went back shortly later to get the full set of braces and get diagnosed with TMJ. At a youth group beach trip, my jaw had locked up and could only open a quarter of an inch. I thought I had somehow dislocated it and freaked out accordingly, thus scaring off boys even with minimal metal in my mouth.

If this blog is any indication, I'm a very high stress and high anxiety person, and that leads me to clenching my teeth in my sleep. I could crack iron bars with these chompers. That, in addition to moving my jaw inches out of place, cause a slipped disc in my jaw. The temporary solution? Cutting down an athletic/football mouth guard to fit my mouth while I slept.

I am the one dorky loser who was excited about getting her braces off because that meant RETAINERS! Six years later, and it's probably been less than twenty nights total without them.

Many more months of agony and dweebiness and I finally got my braces off. The saga had ended. And since I wore my retainers all the time, my perfect smile stayed in place. I once burned my gums with those whitening strips, but all in all my oral woes had come to an end.

Until my wisdom teeth started a'wailin. But they're out now and after pain medicine withdraw and infection, I'm in the clear.

And how does this story end for Lil Watz? Mangrove Mouth gave way to Robo-Tooth for a while when I had the metal in my mouth, and he still calls me a babirusa for my foul temper. He had an equally rough time with a crossbite and some horrible device on the roof of his mouth that had to be turned with a key.

Oh, and he wants to be a dentist, so I'll never be able to escape.


iloveleopardprint said...

Wow, I hate the dentist too and thought I had a bad experience with them but it's not a patch on yours!! Well done on getting through it :L bet you've got lovely teeth now :) xx

Alexia said...

ahh, scary! this just reminded me that i really need to stop putting off a visit to the dentist. the chance that i might go in and walk out with an appointment to get my wisdom teeth removed has made me avoid it at all costs. i am glad you got it over with!!

kyleen said...

"Dr. M had a heart attack.

He was running a marathon or whatever mouth torturers do for fun and his heart gave out. The day before my appointment.



I'm a religious retainer wearer too. Cheese, those years of torture wearing braces and headgear would be wasted if my teeth didn't stay straight.