Bracing myself for orthodontic reality

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This week, after taking the second of my three kids to a consultation appointment at the orthodontist’s office, I saw the reality of our situation in black, white and shades of grey when the doctor put two x-rays on the computer screen side by side.

One showed an x-ray from a year ago which the doctor said looked pretty normal. The x-ray next to it was the one he’d just taken and it was…a dental disaster. It looked like a cluster of bumper cars all pointing in different directions.

The orthodontist pointed at two impacted teeth that had somehow taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and were now headed in the opposite direction. They’d need to be re-routed first with braces and then with oral surgery to attach tiny chains to the wayward pearly whites. braces

Then the doctor told me about my son’s missing permanent teeth that would one day require implants. Then there was the matter of the lower jaw that needed realignment with a custom-made orthodontic appliance.

The incessant ringing of a cash register echoed in my mind. As it turns out, a nice smile can get pretty pricey.

But there’s no one to blame…or is there? The problem of missing permanent teeth is usually a hereditary issue, so maybe it’s my fault. But if it’s my fault then that means it’s probably my parents’ fault, or their parents’ fault, or their parent’s fault. It’s impossible to tell how far up the family tree this DNA dilemma goes.

The only person happy about this situation is our middle child, who was the first kid to get saddled with braces about a year ago. (In some cruel twist of dental fate, he is destined for not one but two sets of braces to correct a “cross bite,” which is apparently a real thing and not just another thing to spend money on. I Googled it.)

When Jack found out his older brother was about to get braces, he smiled a wide, metallic smile and pulled a victorious fist in toward his chest as he said “Yes!” His dental misery is about to get some company in a world where popcorn and Laffy Taffy are strictly prohibited. Finally, someone in the family will literally “feel his pain.”

And speaking of pain, Tom and I are about to feel our share of it, too. Even with the Cadillac of dental insurance programs, we’ll still have to come up with several thousand dollars to get through the Great Orthodontic Crisis of 2015. (Goodbye, summer vacation. I may never walk on your sandy beaches but at least my kids will have properly aligned jawbones. Maybe I’ll have a margarita this summer while I stare into their metal mouths, imagining the way a sunset might look over the ocean. That’ll be relaxing.)

By the time the boys serve their time in braces, it’ll be just about time for their little sister to start her own dental disco. We’ll probably be dealing with wires, rubber bands and retainers for a collective seven years or more.

If I could, I would send a text message back in time to my younger self on the day when our youngest kid graduated from diapers to underwear — the day we felt like we’d be rich because we could finally stop buying diapers. Here’s what I’d say:

“Hold up, sister. Better start stockpiling those diaper dollars because you’re going to need them during the Great Orthodontic Crisis of 2015. I just got the bill and it is OMG.”

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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