I don’t remember when it started. I certainly wasn’t consulted. Somewhere around the age of 10 or 11 I started on my visits to the orthodontist. Braces, on my lower jaw. Teeth removed to make room for the others to straighten. Learning that when a dentist says it’s not going to hurt, she’s lying.
I remember the one occasion when the dentist tried metal bands on my upper teeth, on the rear molars, to test them for a brace and the ones she put on were too tight and she had to yank to remove them. I was terrified she was going to take my teeth out with those pliers.
I had my wisdom teeth out at 11 or twelve, under a general anaesthetic. We’d gone to meet the stomatologist first, who removed a tooth by way of introduction. I think he had pheromones pumping through his office as my mother and I reeled out of there unable to walk or talk.
When I had two or three months to go on one jaw, the orthodontist said let’s start on the other jaw; it would be silly not to. My feeble protests were ignored. I wanted nice teeth didn’t I? What was the point of straightening one jaw if the other one didn’t match.
I lost count of how many teeth I had removed as a child. I learned to “relax” on the chair as it hurt less if I wasn’t tense, to wiggle my toes when it hurt. I spent several years having nightmares about my teeth falling out, well aware that I didn’t brush my teeth enough for someone without braces, let alone with.
Then we moved back to London and attended dental hospital with a list of instructions about this foreign technique that had to be finished. Eventually it was. And I thought it was over. By then I did brush my teeth properly and twice daily.
Some years later, about 20 years old I visited a new dentist. He looked at my teeth, tut-tutted and asked about my history. I explained as best I could. He then explained that what was considered best practice back then was now deprecated, that I had too many teeth removed and that my teeth clearly built up plaque far too quickly as well as there being plenty of room for the plaque to build up and I was in trouble.
So came the first of the deep cleaning. Anaesthetic, lots of it, and then scraping beneath the gum line. He did it more than once and then it was no longer free on the NHS but would cost £300 a time. Ouch. I moved and my new dentist looked at my teeth and said there was nothing wrong with them. Had all that pain been in vain I wondered.
And so it went on with regular visits to the dentist, the hygienist, dental hospital. In the last ten years teeth started to fall out. I had to have plates, one for my two front upper teeth and one for a lower tooth. The molars fell out one by one. I knew there would come a crunch point when there weren’t enough teeth left to hold up the plate. I reached that point a few months ago and on Tuesday I had my last six upper teeth removed.
I don’t know whether I’ve built up resistance over the years or have a naturally high tolerance but lidocaine doesn’t work properly. It’s supposed to last for an hour and instead it lasts for about five minutes. One round of anaesthetic was about five injections. The dentist started pulling. I said no. Another round lasted long enough for most of the removals but the last one hurt. So this time an injection of ardocaine (sp?) and out it came. I felt wobbly to say the least.
In fact I was so wobbly I ended up spending the week in bed. Now I have a temporary upper plate while my gum heals and shrinks. Unfortunately it needs glue to hold it in and for some reason this I find difficult to get my head round. Dental fixative is for old people and I’m not that old surely, although I currently feel absolutely positively ancient.
At some point over the last few years my viewpoint shifted from wanting my teeth to last as long as possible to just wanting the pain to go away. Every time my teeth got scraped they would become ultra-sensitive, with stabbing pain that would come and go depending on the temperature of food and drink, occasionally just cold weather.
I’ll eventually look back with relief that it’s all over but my last remaining molar has newly exposed roots so the pain is still there and I have to get used to eating with my new denture, especially before the round of Christmas dinners start.
It’s been a long journey and it certainly wasn’t worth it. Whether my teeth would have lasted longer without all that orthodontistry I will never know. But the pain over the years has been incalculable, as has the fear, worry and anguish.
I really don’t think having straight teeth was worth it.