I knew something was off when I felt a burning feeling across my gums. It didn’t stop there. A headache was beginning on both sides of my skull. My alarm went off, so I had no choice but to fully come into consciousness and deal with the harshness of what this morning was about to bring.
I had braces put on the day before, and while I slept, my memory erased it. I briefly thought it would be like any of my other days. I had no idea what was ahead.
My teeth felt hot, and if they would touch, it felt like electrical shocks, but I didn’t want to look like a monster with my mouth open all day. As each bracket was cemented on, the orthodontist said I might experience some discomfort the next day. His idea of that and mine was light-years apart. This was excruciating.
Pain reliever helped somewhat, but it did nothing for the metal that was scraping the inside of my mouth. I had been given soft pieces of wax to rip off and mold over the places where it was causing the most damage. That pretty much was every square inch.
I had a job as a social worker that demanded I speak, so it wasn’t like I could hide by myself in a cubicle and keep my mouth closed. I had to talk to staff, residents, and families all day long. The protective coating was melty, so it appeared I was drooling like a lunatic.
That was only the first day of many more to come.
The rubber band phase was even worse. I had hooks installed on my top and bottom teeth that I had to stretch bands across. They tended to disengage at the most inopportune times. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be in the middle of a serious discussion at a care conference and have one of them launch itself straight at a family member across from me. It was awkward to be discussing the poor oral hygiene of a resident and as if on cue, have my band go flying.
One man had to dodge it from hitting him in the eye. And that was just because I smiled at him. I said I was sorry a lot during that time of my life.
Everything I ate, I had to cut into pieces. Biting into an apple would have snapped off hardware, and I was told to stay away from anything sticky completely.
Every small change that was made brought on more adjusting. I had started out trying to solve a tooth problem that was slightly behind the rest on the bottom toward the front. I had put up with it for years, but I knew getting treatment was expensive.
Instead of putting that financial burden on my parents, I waited until my mid-twenties to get it resolved. There were many appointments starting with a cast made of my mouth. There were tightenings and band replacements as I went through nearly two years of being a cyborg.
Getting them off was another long appointment that led to being fitted for the retainer.
“You have to wear this twenty-four hours a day,” I was told.
On the bottom, he fastened a little permanent bar to stop shifting from occurring and clicked in a molded replica of the upper part of my mouth.
“How does that feel?” he asked.
“Gwait,” I said, now speaking in a foreign tongue.
Every phone call I had to take at work was a challenge. The tip of my tongue clashed with the plastic making my words sound distorted. I didn’t even understand me.
“This isth Quistine. Thoscial thersevice.” The actual words: This is Christine. Social Service.
I was required to say this at the beginning of every call, or the administrator would have a heart attack. She had rigorous protocols whether or not a person had a temporary speech impediment.
If I had removed my retainer every time I spoke, I would never have had it in my mouth. So I adapted and wore it. Soon, my speech became normal. It’s incredible how that happens when it seems like all hope is lost at first.
One of the long-term effects of straightening my teeth was it caused them to be weak. My treatment was done at a time when technology and procedures weren’t as advanced as now.
My daughters both have gone through the same experience as me, but much more manageable. The dentist I had them see also did their braces, and I became his patient.
“I am going to put a patch on this tooth,” he said to me. “This could break at lunch tomorrow, and you will need a permanent solution.”
It lasted ten years until it didn’t a few weeks ago. It seems everything that can cause trouble happens on a Friday night after ten p.m. when no help is available. And that’s when I crunched into a piece of popcorn.
Looking into the mirror, I saw that his work had come undone. The following week, I was in a chair for a cleaning and check. When I told the hygienist what had happened, she came forth quickly with information like an encyclopedia.
“I need to take your blood pressure,” she said, putting a watch-like band on my wrist. Gone are the days of the cuff on the arm and the air pumping that leads to your bicep being squeezed.
She had me hold out my arm, and she fastened it, hitting a start button. I could clearly see the numbers.
“So with that tooth, he is going to have to remove it completely. You will probably need an implant. My mom just had her tooth pulled for the same thing yesterday. Sorry.”
I kept watching my numbers climb. Her timing was terrible for delivering bad news while she was checking the rate at which my heart was beating. But, oddly, I felt peaceful. I had that happen before where I wasn’t panicked during a highly stressful situation but felt a calm come over me. Like what is described in Philippians 4:7,
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (NLT)
After she went through the cleaning, he appeared and said that a root canal was necessary and then the application of a crown. My tooth would not be pulled as she had said.
My biggest worry was that he would lecture me on not having been in to see him for a while. He didn’t do that at all. The rest of my teeth were perfect.
“You had braces, right?”
“Yes. A long time ago.”
“But not by me.” He said it could have happened anytime whether I had been in or not.
“I’m just glad you are back. I love you and your girls. You guys are great.”
I thought there was going to be chastisement for my lack of care for myself. And that’s really what it had been. I kept putting it off because I put myself last as unimportant. In addition, the longer time went on in between visits, the more fearful I became. I never asked God’s advice. I just let myself slip into a wrong way of living, and I had mixed up a cocktail of fear and guilt. But, none of what I thought was going to happen ever did.
Instead, I was met with kindness, and he went to work repairing the damage.
That is the nature of God. Once you stop running away and making excuses, you will find that there is grace waiting. Many don’t do this, though, for fear of retribution. What if I had been met with a harsh response? Would I have died? No. The issue would have been resolved anyway. I would have been momentarily uncomfortable facing my disregard for my health, but it was the truth. I hadn’t kept up with my six-month checks as I should have. He had every right to put me in my place.
But he didn’t. Because he wants me to keep coming back. A good dentist and God operate that way. That’s wisdom and how fitting that this can be found in Proverbs 4:7-9,
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”(NLT)