Some of you who see my posts on social media may think I am crazy, being nearly 68 years old and having no visibly crooked teeth when I smile while talking about my upcoming journey with braces. Why would I opt to sacrifice 18 months of my life not being able to eat caramel corn, bite into an apple with the skin still on, or eat peanuts? Why would I pollute my smile with appliances (I have already faced the fact that I am not disciplined enough for Invisalign and cannot fathom the idea of popping trays out at a restaurant before I eat)? Why would I relegate my existence to a constantly-aching mouth for a while and even commit to wearing a retainer in perpetuity?
The reasons an adult would opt to have all this done may well be vanity, and I am not going to tell you that I don’t believe it will improve my smile when all is said and done, since my teeth — while fairly straight — tilt inward. But my reasons are a bit more far-reaching than that.
First, I have a small mouth. (I even have a small head, requiring me to line every Panama or fedora with a headband to keep it on). Why the guy upstairs made parts of me small while I have raged for years at the rest of me being too big, I will never know. That small mouth has crowded teeth. Back when I was a teenager, it was okay if your parents could afford to get your uppers fixed but not your lowers. And I had serious fangs. My Greek parents actually wondered what future husband would choose me looking the way I did — it’s what parents thought about in those days. So two perfectly healthy teeth were pulled from my uppers. I received braces there, and presto — my teeth looked straight the rest of my adult life. Miraculously, my bite still worked.
What didn’t work was a lifetime of shredded dental floss. My lowers were so tight that even a harp floss lost its life when trying to dislodge a popcorn shell. What happens when it’s impossible to floss? While I’ve been lucky so far, I may not always be so lucky. It was not uncommon for people my age in my parents’ generation to have dentures by now.
Aside from gingivitis, occurring when bacteria builds up between your teeth causing decay, gum bleeding and gum puffiness, limited flossing can cause plaque to build up — related not only to gum disease but even heart disease. Inflammation — that dirty word. Here is the path it can take: bacteria can cling to the roots of the teeth and irritate the gums, causing plaque to form. Plaque is plaque and can travel anywhere, whether it’s on your teeth or building up in your arteries, potentially blocking blood flow. Next year I will be at the age at which my own mother died following surgery for heart disease. Starting to get the picture?
I would be lying if I told you I lamented the idea of some weight loss occurring because I will soon be sporting appliances in my mouth. Many of my friends who experienced braces in adult life said it eliminated their sweet tooth once and for all and that my first love — crusty garlic bread — will become a memory for a while. But I am at that gateway age — the one where you see the last third of your life (if you’re lucky) looming before you. I’d like not only to keep my teeth, but also look better as I throw my head back and laugh with my jaw in full array. It is said that laugher stimulates the release of endorphins, those things known as the brain’s natural opiate. So if I am into healthy drug alternatives, I’d love to be addicted to this one.
But most of all, I have this one time to go around. What do I want to invest in? A few fun trips to Las Vegas or a mouth full of straight teeth? Our priorities tend to shift as we age, making us begin to savor and cherish each day we are given, especially when we begin to see our parents’ generation disappearing and even some of our own friends and family members take early departures.
I want a great smile and I want a healthy mouth, mind and body. I have to work at all of those things through exercise, diet, and attitude. In my mind they are a matched set, right along with my teeth.