Technology has come a long way, hasn’t it? Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, we could never afford braces while I was growing up. As a consequence, my mouth contains unspeakable horrors, a jumbled mess of crooked trolls, crowding haphazardly around a fresh carcass. I’m not kidding. While my smile won’t crack any mirrors, I have the overbite of a horse and the canines of a timber wolf. And like an unbalanced chair, my wobbly bite has ushered in periods of intense jaw cramps over the last few years.
My laziness has finally been overcome by my propensity for aggravation, so it’s time to finally fix this shit. Invisible tooth wrangling technology has gotten much better since the process was introduced, and is now applicable to moderate cases like mine, instead of folks who already had braces and just needed a slight update because they didn’t wear their retainer. Getting everything arranged was much more involved than I suspected, however.
The process started by visiting my dentist and having them squirt an unholy purple and green slime into a giant mouth guard which I gnawed on long enough for them to obtain a relatively accurate snapshot of my bite. My bite is horrible, by the way. I already mentioned it’s crooked witch-like clasp, but I didn’t realize just how bad my teeth were until I saw the mold. The right side of my upper teeth is partially caved in, instead of rounded outwards like you’d expect. I knew my right canine was rather unorthodox, but the mold revealed a bunched mass of several teeth, like they were building a shambling rugby team.
Immersing my teeth in goo and waiting for it to harden, required about an hour of my time. Then they sent me on my way, and I started the waiting game.
Well, Invisalign is a company based in California. Their process of laser-activated plastic only takes place there. And worse, the dentist and a specialist have to work together on producing the actual model of my mouth and all the intermediate steps required to rearrange everything properly. This takes weeks of back-and-forth. My case was apparently extra complicated, because I didn’t hear back from my dentist for two months. This shouldn’t have been surprising, really, because I actually had molds taken last year, and my case was too difficult to handle back then. Some recent fairy magic or demonic insight rendered my case manageable recently, but little else.
Yet, miraculously, the aligners were finally produced, and I was called in for my fitting. Oh, how little I suspected.
I’d done some research, and I was aware of a few certain little-known facts about the aligners. They are braces, in a way. Instead of anchoring to other metal pieces fit over the teeth, they snap onto epoxy-based anchors built onto the tooth itself, somewhat like enamel-colored outcroppings. Remember when I said my case was complex? I need twelve of those hateful, jagged bastards. My teeth now resemble an overzealous rock-climbing wall aching to host a frenzied thrill-seeker.
So, how do they actually install those things? I’m glad you asked! My dentist scraped a flat surface into my teeth, squirted some epoxy into a template, and pressed upon it with the weight of a thousand obese elephants, all while his assistant zapped the compound with a UV gun until it set. But it wasn’t over yet! Inevitably some compound leaked between the template and my teeth, which meant grinding off the excess with a dental drill! Hurray! And while I expected much of this, what I didn’t expect was that the tight “pop” which is good for flossing, is bad for Invisalign. For the aligners to attach properly, those spaces needed to be . . . widened. So in he goes with a dental file, whereupon I experience a rather disconcerting series of sawing noises as he struggles to wedge the dental implement deep enough to produce a usable gap.
None of that actually hurt, but I would hardly provide it as a party favor. And though my dentist likes putting on a pleasant and confident air, I suspected he was haggard and broken inside. Still, the worst was yet to come.
Before they let me scamper away, it was time to clip on the first set of aligners. This was the part I’d been waiting two months for! Except I failed to properly account for just how tightly the aligners fit. Academically, I understood they’d be snug enough to wrench my teeth into different parts of my mouth, but the anchors—all twelve of them—made it incalculably worse. In the same vein as an arrowhead, the aligners clip on smoothly enough, but removing them requires an act of God tantamount to parting the Red Sea. And I don’t have to defeat one or two, but six for each aligner, three on each half of my mouth.
Of course they wanted me to demonstrate my ability to fasten and remove the trays self-sufficiently. My brain-damaged bumbling merely convinced the assistant I should repeat my aborted attempts until I managed something repeatable. I still can’t do this right, and have resorted to wedging part of an aligner between my thumbnail and a molar and pushing up or down, and proceeding along the gum line until it successfully pops off. The amount of pressure this requires is ridiculous and rather painful, so I started looking for some other removal method. Thankfully this is a common issue, and I can just buy an Outie on Amazon to solve my problem.
The ol’ in-and-out practically ensures I won’t eat snacks anymore. Flossing, brushing, and cleaning the aligners between meals is pure madness, and taking them out is like, well, pulling teeth. I imagine anyone with braces has to deal with something similar, and in some ways they have it worse because flossing and brushing around a bunch of wires and mounts looks abysmally tedious.
But unlike people in braces, I can only drink water while I’m wearing these. Liquid is outright evil, and tea, coffee, and pop of any kind, contain acids, dyes, and sugar. Like an insidious taint, these things all lurk in the imperceptible gap between aligner and tooth, helpfully transforming enamel into Silly Putty. Since I’d rather not have my teeth dissolved like Alka-Seltzer, I’ll stick with plain water for the duration.
Did I mention I’ll be wearing these for at least the next year? Currently I only have eleven sets of trays to straighten my teeth, but then I’ll get another series of aligners to rectify my bite—the whole reason I pursued correction in the first place. My dentist estimated twelve to fourteen months, and since eleven trays only accounts for about five of those, it’s pretty clear he’s taking an iterative approach instead of just assuming all thirty trays can be modeled accurately based on the movement he wants. I respect that, and since he’s probably the best dentist I’ve ever had, I trust he’s making the right decision. Should I have consulted an orthodontist? Probably. Hopefully Dr. Jeff’s competence makes up for his lack of that particular degree.
All in all, the first couple days of wearing these things is equal parts agonizing, annoying, tedious, and weird. Without major oral surgery, I couldn’t have gotten any kind of braces before my wisdom teeth started coming in when I was seventeen, or after I had them removed when I was twenty four. But I still took my sweet time. Remember, I’m lazy.
I guess that’s just how life works. At least pain doesn’t form memories very well. If I took these off tomorrow, I’d have a very hard time remembering just how uncomfortable they were for the first few days. I trust that effect will persist for the duration, so I can handle it. I expected most of this, but it’s different actually experiencing it firsthand. But I need some kind of correction, and any avenue I pursued would have its share of associated agony. I’m fine with a little discomfort now if it means freedom from jaw cramps.