"Oh, God, you look just like your father with those big gaps in your teeth," cringed my aunt. I don't remember what we'd been laughing about, heads thrown back in abandon at yet another family gathering, but I do remember closing my mouth immediately. I had no problem looking like my Dad: he was tall, dark and handsome and I'd heard the comparison all my life. I did, however, have a problem with my teeth being disparaged.  Everyone in my immediate family had big, beautiful, pearly white smiles. Our smiles were always one of the first things that struck anyone looking at us, bright white against dark skin. They were the source of countless compliments. This was, in fact, the first time in my 50+ years I could recall anyone ever saying anything negative about my teeth and I did not take it kindly.

I was a regular in my dentist's chair. In the past, I'd inquired about braces to correct a slight overbite,  but it wasn't considered harmful or significant enough to warrant correction. But on my next visit, I certainly brought it up again. Teeth shift over time, my dentist informed me. In addition to my prized small front gap that I'd decided I'd inherited from some generous African ancestors, I had a widening gap two spaces over, just before my canine tooth. It hadn't really bothered me in the past but now it vexed my last nerve. How dare my aunt speak unkindly of my teeth, particularly since she had the same gap and a few more? I'd show her! I had a great dental plan that I had been taking full advantage of. Now I vowed to kick it into high gear. 

See that gap on the right? Yeah, that one. Photo by FPolk, Martha's Vineyard, August 2015

See that gap on the right? Yeah, that one. Photo by FPolk, Martha's Vineyard, August 2015

There was no way I was closing my front gap, but I needed to know what I could do about my side chasm as soon as possible. The best options were braces, either traditional metal braces or Invisaligns, clear plastic shields molded to fit and shift your teeth structure over time.  Metal braces would achieve my desired results faster, but at my age? I couldn't quite wrap my head around looking like I'd missed the braces boat by a few decades, so I opted for the more gradual correction of Invisaligns. My dentist took impressions, photos and a chunk of money out of my pocket. Two weeks later, I had the first of 19 sets of molds I'd wear over the next 38 weeks. 

The first day was murder. Recommended wear was 22 hours daily and try as I might to comply, I was in pain. I didn't make 22 hours of wear because I stretched out my meals a long as I could, dismayed by the prospect of snapping them, painfully, back in place. I was not happy. My gap started looking far less objectionable. I mean, who else really noticed?  I set a three day deadline: stop hurting or my dentist could have them back. Thankfully, they heard, or maybe felt, me! Two days were decidedly miserable, but on day three my teeth decided to cooperate and began shifting. I took a nail file and smoothed the inner edges of the plastic brace so my raw tongue would stop searching for a way to evict the Invisaligns. Thankfully, it started to heal.

I learned quite a bit over the 38 week stretch. Water was the only thing I was supposed to imbibe with the Invisaligns in. But did I follow instructions? Nope. I drink fresh green juice regularly and one day at work, I gulped down one of my concoctions that contained turmeric with my Invisaligns firmly in place. Hours later, a young coworker that loved me asked, "Why are your teeth green?" I yanked the Invisaligns out and yep, the turmeric had turned them a nice bright shade of green. WHO LET ME WALK AROUND FOR HOURS WITH GREEN TEETH?? Grrr. Later, I tried to bite something -- I don't remember what -- with my braces in and re-chipped a front tooth. Not cute. So, I started following instructions a little better.

Time did not fly. It didn't slow down, either, but it was a full 38 weeks. I've never been as happy for a dental visit as I was to take impressions for my retainer. And I celebrated as I threw out the old sets. But I kept sets 18 and 19, and I'm so glad I did. Call me hardheaded, but sometimes I forget to sleep in my retainers. My bottom teeth required little adjustment so they pose no problem. But if I lapse for a few days without my top retainer, it's like returning to day one. Getting that top retainer in hurts! I've opted to wear set 18 for a few nights, then 19, then my retainers to minimize the trauma. After all I've invested, I'm not about to give up and let them shift back to where I started.

Which reminds me: I'll see my aunt over the Thanksgiving holidays. I assure you, I'll be grinning from ear to ear!


Pearly whites