J’s Braces

J got braces. We’ve known this was coming for a while now, and she’s already been through a palate expander, but getting braces was still a pretty big deal. It took the orthodontist about two hours to put them on, and then they advised that we get a quick bite to eat before the soreness kicked in, so we stopped at Jumpin’ Jacks on the way home. I vaguely remember being a little sore with braces, but J turned out to be very, very sore for four or five days. I’d thought that spaghetti would be plenty soft enough for that first night, but she struggled through it, and I ended up making our pureed potato leek soup for dinner the next night.

It was ugly there for a bit. J’s got one tooth that’s so far out of whack that the bracket popped off her tooth literally within an hour or two of leaving the office, which was discouraging. We ended up going back and now that bracket isn’t attached directly to the wire at all; there’s a little string connecting the bracket to the wire until it gets closer to into line with the rest of her mouth. Poor J was in pain, she was having trouble eating, and she felt like her whole face was puffy and not as cute anymore. Luckily a couple of her friends were getting braces at about the same time, so they all commiserated and distracted each other.  J perked up as the pain subsided and she got a little bit better at figuring out how to eat foods and brush her teeth with all the hardware. She’s still not super-psyched, but she’s coping.

The one lingering problem was flossing her teeth. Now, if you’re like me, you’d say, “Flossing? How the heck are you supposed to floss your teeth when you have braces?” Because you know braces. There is literally a wire that’s going across the middle of the front of your tooth that’s perpendicular to the little vertical spaces between your teeth where the dental floss is supposed to go. I mean, doesn’t the wire stop the dental floss from going up? Cute W and I both had braces, and neither of us could recall ever flossing while we had braces. Maybe we were supposed to do it, but we have no recollection of being asked to floss our teeth during the entire braces ordeal. Of course, we were also allowed to ride in cars without car seats and ride bikes without helmets.

These days, the orthodontics folks instruct the kids to carefully thread the floss through above the wire between each individual bracket in order to floss properly at least once a day. When J explained this to me, my reaction was, “You can’t possibly be serious. They really expect you to do that? You have a life to live!” But she was doing her very best, and then, when she simply could not manage to thread the floss through on those back molars, she was distraught. Beside herself. In her mind, she was going through all of this pain, and her parents were spending so much money, and now, because of her shoddy oral hygiene, the entire endeavor was doomed to failure.

The horrible thing about J’s tendency toward anxiety-ridden perfectionism is that I find myself encouraging her to slack off and make what sound like bad choices just to preserve her sanity, like encouraging her to put less effort into a homework project. In this case, I tried to remind her that there is a long American tradition of people falling desperately short of the dental community’s high standards. Not that she shouldn’t ever floss, but that she might try every other day if it was going to take her 30 or 40 minutes to complete the task. “You can’t honestly tell me that you’ve been flossing your teeth carefully every day before braces,” I argued, “and so far it looks like your teeth are still in your head and your gums haven’t rotted away.” She found this unpersuasive. In fact, the dentist had advised that she could do a little better with the flossing. All the more reason to recommit herself to the effort now that she has thousands of dollars of hardware on her teeth.

We gave it some time, hoping things would get better. But after a third night of witnessing her spending half an hour in her efforts and moaning plaintively over her inability to reach everywhere, I ordered a Waterpik water flosser. They had always seemed indulgent before, but this seemed important to J’s and my mental health, plus it doesn’t seem nearly as expensive as it used to, now that my expectations have been reset by orthodontia bills. It arrived yesterday and J loves it. I highly recommend it to all my young friends with braces.


  1. Claire

    I have no words, other than Wow, to comment on the efforts to floss with braces. My son thankfully doesn’t need braces, but if he did, I think I would rebel against that directive.

  2. Big Sister

    How about this from The Guardian in the UK in April, 2016: “An investigation by the Associated Press now suggests our (U.S.) dentists may have been stringing us along. Freedom of Information requests to the US Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for the evidence underpinning its recommendation for daily flossing have prompted the organisation to quietly drop this advice. Public Health England has also said that it will be reviewing its own guidance on flossing in the New Year.” So, Miss J’s anxiety can be set to rest while she sluices herself with her cool new machine.

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