When I got my braces off during my junior year of high school, I was ecstatic. After 3 long years in metal, I finally had the smile I wanted.
I was told that I needed to wear a retainer to maintain the new position of my teeth. At first, I went along with it and wore it like I was supposed to. But after a while, it got to be a hassle. I was tired of digging through the garbage in the cafeteria after accidentally throwing out my retainer. I hated how icky it got if it wasn't washed frequently. It had a metal bar that hung down from the roof of my mouth that was meant to keep my tongue at the back of my mouth. It made me talk and look really weird.
So, after a few weeks, I decided that I no longer needed my retainer. And I decided that I didn't need to go to the checkups that the orthodontist recommended. I figured, what do I need an orthodontist for? I don't have braces anymore.
A couple of months after I stopped wearing my retainer, I slipped it on for curiosity's sake. My teeth felt like someone was squeezing them with pliers — it was so painful, I had to take it off right away. You would think warning bells would go off, but I didn't think any more of it.
In fact, I didn't think about it until the end of my first year in college. All of a sudden, my teeth looked pretty bad. They weren't the straight beauties that they used to be. And that was the weird thing — it seemed to happen overnight. But in reality, the longer my teeth went without the retainer, the more they shifted. The retainer was meant to retain my smile; it was supposed to keep my teeth in the places the braces had put them. But without the retainer, my teeth shifted a little one day, a little more the next, until they were, well — ugly.
When I got home that summer, I decided to return to the orthodontist. I decided to get a new doctor, because at that point I was blaming my former orthodontist for the return of the crooked teeth instead of the proper culprit — myself. I did my research and chose an orthodontist close to my house who'd fixed my friend's teeth back in high school.
The orthodontist gave me a consultation, and told me that my teeth had pushed out because I was a "tongue thruster." That basically meant that instead of resting my tongue on the roof of my mouth when I swallowed, I pushed it forward instead. Since the tongue is a strong muscle, it was able to push my front teeth forward. Suddenly, I realized that the metal bar on my old retainer had been important after all.
The orthodontist told me that if I wanted to fix my teeth again, I would need to have four teeth pulled and braces placed on the remaining teeth to close up the holes. And it would cost several thousand dollars.
Because this was my second time in braces, the health insurance had run out. I had to pay for the braces myself. I put down a big deposit and was lucky to work out a monthly payment plan agreement with the orthodontist.
My second time around in braces was very difficult. Unlike high school where braces are often as common as ponytails, I was one of a very few college students wearing them. It made me stand out in a way I didn't like.
At first, my braces made me feel self-conscious and reluctant to smile. The money I had to pay each month made me less willing to spend money on other things, like nice dinners or a new pair of jeans. And because I went to college out of state, I had to find the time to drive several hundred miles back home every time I needed an adjustment, which was usually every 6 to 8 weeks.
I got my braces off for the second time at the beginning of my last semester of college. I was pleased with the results, although I think I liked my smile better after the first time I'd had braces. But that's OK. Because through this experience, I learned that you can always find something about your appearance that you don't like. If you can fix it, cool. If not, it's not the end of the world. Once I got over the fact that my smile was going to be a little rough for a while, I was able to go to parties and have fun.
Even though I've come to that realization, I would not like to go through this experience again. That's why my retainer stays in my mouth unless I'm cleaning it or eating. If I had followed my orthodontist's instructions the first time around, I could have saved myself a lot of time and money and avoided some pain and inconvenience.
In a few more weeks, I'll only have to wear my retainer at night. A few months after that, I'll probably be told that I can stop wearing it altogether. I think I'll be wearing it forever, though, just in case.