When I was younger I had some pretty jacked-up teeth. I wasn’t quite worthy of The Big Book of British Smiles (featured on The Simpsons), but things were bad enough that I definitely needed braces.
Enter my orthodontist, who basically had a monopoly on the entire snaggle-toothed population in the immediate area. The only other orthodontist available was some guy who was fighting tax evasion charges, so I guess the safer bet was to go with the guy who’d be able to finish the job. The last thing I wanted was for the IRS to storm in and shut the joint down while I’ve still got wires sticking out of my mouth.
This was all very unfortunate because my orthodontist’s office was nothing more than a money-making house of horrors.
For starters, back in my day there was no such thing as “comfort” at the orthodontist. Asking for comfort at the orthodontist was like asking for a chaser with your Saganaki; it simply was not done. (Because we all know that nobody in their right mind would ever mask the glorious taste which is flaming Greek cheese. Period.)
This is a stark contrast to the orthodontist offices of today. I started realizing this when I brought my stepdaughter in for one of her very first visits.
It all started when the super friendly lady-helper cheerfully asked my stepdaughter what flavor she wanted for the mold/model of her mouth.
“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said. “You mean to tell me you people have flavors now?”
“Oh yes!” she cheerfully tells me. “We can do mint or strawberry or even bubble gum!”
I sighed and shook my head. Unreal. I only had one flavor for my mouth mold, and that flavor was CEMENT.
Next up, the ambience. My stepdaughter’s ortho office had cool retro album covers on the walls and pictures or puzzles you could stare at on the ceiling while you were reclined and getting your braces tightened. Plus they played a rock station. My ortho office featured easy-listening and absolutely no cool artwork of any kind, unless you count all the threatening pictures of kids’ messed-up mouths. These were meant as warnings to us if we didn’t wear our headgear or forgot to floss. It kind of gave a whole new meaning to Scared Straight.
And then there is the orthodontist swag. So apparently nowadays if you do what you’re told (avoid taffy, skillfully pick the food out of your braces, etc.) you get cool prizes like certificates for pizza. My “prize” was a crummy white tee shirt with an illustrated stick-figure brace-face girl. It said something like “Brace Yourself!” on it in big letters. Something I’d wear along with my headgear if my name was Joan Cusack and I was headed to the dance with Samantha Baker and Long Duck Dong.
And let’s talk about technology. My stepdaughter’s extremely personable orthodontist took the time to show this super high-tech mini movie about how her teeth would get fixed and put into their proper place. It was freaking amazing. I had to stop myself from asking him to “Play it again!” Needless to say, my doctor never showed me anything on the office Apple IIe except for maybe the outstanding balance on my hefty bill.
But I was tough back in the 80’s; I could handle all these inconveniences, and I never really mentioned them. But one thing I regularly complained about was the sheer PAIN.
Apparently my doctor subscribed to the crank methodology of orthodontics. He could barely contain his pleasure as he cranked and pulled and yanked on my teeth as hard as he possibly could. I never found out what was behind that one locked door, but my guess was it was a gym so that Doc could stay in fine prison shape and beat on all those mouths.
To add insult to injury, my orthodontist didn’t even fix my teeth right. Sure I look great compared to those cleft palate kids in the back of magazines. But then look a little closer and you’ll see that my bottom teeth all overlap each other. And it sure as hell wasn’t because I didn’t wear my retainer afterwards – I wore that thing religiously. (And don’t get me started on Retainers Now vs. Retainers Then. As you can tell, technology really pisses me off sometimes, especially when I see how easy it makes life for others while I had to suffer.)
Apparently my overbite was not fixed properly, so when I bite down, my front teeth cover my bottom teeth. They bump into each other, and my lower teeth get all moved around. So all that money and time and pain and my mouth is still messed up.
But at least…at least…I have this brief shining moment of revenge.
At one particular appointment, my orthodontist kept asking me to bite down on this piece of plastic he kept shoving into my mouth. This went on for quite a while. Insert, bite down. Insert, bite down. After a while it became rather rhythmic, and he didn’t even have to tell me to bite down. I just did. And then, instead of inserting the long orange plastic thing, he inserted his finger. And I bit down. Boy did I bite down.
While it’s true it was an accident, I felt pure joy. The rest of the patients around me heard the demonic doctor cry out in pain, and they all looked at me in a mixture of awe, gratefulness and worship. I was like that brave orphan who had stomped on Ms. Hannigan’s foot. If they hadn’t been strapped down, they probably would have started to clap. But then again that would have been pretty risky; come time for their own brace tightening, our sadistic doctor could easily go into full throttle crank mode, much like the life-sucking device used on Westley in The Princess Bride.
No, we would have to take this small victory for what it was: a small step for the young tortured mangled-mouth souls, who would soon lead the way toward a more peaceful, kinder orthodontic experience.
You’re welcome, kids.