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Baby Face to Brace Face: Beginning our Orthodontic Journey

Teenage boy at the dentist's chair during a dental procedure in dentist office.

It looked like a primeval creature with a plastic shell. Its metallic abdomen spread out into wiry, spindly legs. As I looked at the thing, now cemented into my son’s mouth, I questioned, “What have I done?”

It’s only orthodonture.

I mean, millions of people survive this rite of passage. My sister and I both made it through retainers and braces. Friends of mine endured headgear and palate expanders, braces with rubber bands, and all manner of orthodontic torture. And so, this should be no big deal that my eleven-year-old had just been fitted with a palate expander and lower braces.

But it is. He went from baby face to brace face in just over an hour.

We had known for a couple of years that our son would be a candidate for orthodontic treatment. Finally, last summer, our family dentist said we should begin the process. Now, it’s one thing to be the tween recipient of the treatment. It’s another to be the mom, experiencing it all from the other side of the chair. There was so much to learn!

Finding an Orthodontist

For better or for worse, Bloomington has just a handful of orthodontists to choose from. As I polled my mom-friends who had already trod this path, they kept telling me the same two names. Almost evenly split between Orthodontist A and Orthodontist B, each family had been pleased with their experiences. So, based on this information, I felt comfortable narrowing the orthodontic field to two. I took my son to each provider for a free, 45-minute consultation.

Both practices were going to charge me roughly the same price ($$$$!) Both had lovely, attentive staff. Both were conveniently located. Both had similar assessments of what needed to be done. However, the second doctor we saw made the additional recommendation of the palate expander. So now what? Differing treatment opinions. I could tell that my son seemed to “click” with the other orthodontist a bit better (so be careful if you ask your child who he/she prefers!) Yet, I thought “Door #2” was a reasonable option. Physiologically it made sense. But what did I know? And would it all really matter in the long run?

We went to our regular dentist. I needed a tie-breaker. I asked him for his opinion. “Well,” he diplomatically began, “there are a number of ways you can do orthodontics and one is not necessarily a superior method….” I nodded and then took a more direct approach. I asked, “Which one would You do? What would you recommend for your family member?”

Door #2. The palate expander. That’s how we ended up with our current orthodontist.

What to Expect

I know not everyone’s experience will be like ours, but there will likely be overlap. For instance, there will be two or three appointments before The Appointment. There will be the money/payment talk (dental insurance saved us about 15%). There will be pictures and x-rays. There will be choices: traditional, clear, or, possibly, Invisalign. And, depending on your child’s treatment plan there will be “spacers”—tiny rubber bands that get shoved in between the teeth in preparation for The Big Day. Which, for being so little, they can cause quite a bit of discomfort. And then, for certain appliances, your kiddo will get the full-gag-effect dental impression.

Mamas, you should expect that even your usually-not-anxious child may feel nervous, uncertain, and/or worried. So much is out of his/her control. You might also want to prepare yourself for feeling more nervous than you think you should feel. For me, I felt a little foolish for being worried about a treatment that was an option and a privileged choice. Because I know so many moms out there who have to make gut-wrenching decisions on behalf of their child concerning things much more serious than orthodonture.

Preparing for The Day(s)

Your child will be uncomfortable. Probably in some pain. It will be hard to eat, especially because he or she might also have to learn how to chew and swallow a bit differently. I stocked up on soft foods like pudding and jello, apple sauce, yogurt, chicken nuggets, boxed mac ‘n cheese, and extra ice cream. I sent him to school with a chocolate Frosty. I gave my son over the counter pain medication before his appointment. Then, I followed up every few hours for the next day or so. Rinsing his mouth with salt water helped, and the orthodontist had supplied a goody bag of wax and Orajel and other rinses if he needed them.

My son thought the pain would never end. He thought he might not eat “real” food again. The pain did subside. And he is eating again (but he is missing those “no-no” foods very much.)

Where We Are Now

We’re two weeks down with about 88 more to go, but orthodontic life is so much better than those first three days. My son has made his food adjustments and has taken responsibility for his oral hygiene. (Does anyone else have to remind their tweens/teens to brush their teeth??) For the long haul, we invested in an electric toothbrush that can be fitted with an “orthodontic” head. I wish I had the kids’ Waterpik on that first day (because food does get stuck), but, thanks to Amazon Prime, it was here in a jiffy, and it sure helps to dislodge oral “gunk”.

Every night I turn the key to expand his palate with a little more confidence (and will be happy when that is soon over!) As it turns out, it doesn’t seem to hurt. We need to think ahead for eating out, and we make sure we have an interdental brush with us (I didn’t even know those things existed!) But life, now, is pretty “normal.” Just the way I remember it when I had braces. And, I can even feel my teeth hurt just a little bit every time my son gets his wire changed out.

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