Friday, June 13, 2008

Vanity, pride, guilt and fear

I haven’t posted in a long time. This is not because I have nothing to write. It is because I have a lot going on.

For one thing, and I’m just going to put it out there: I got braces.

If that doesn’t feel like the most vain, self-centered, selfish use of family resources, I don’t know what is. And I do not say this to be disrespectful of other adults with braces. I know some absolutely lovely people who have braces. That’s why I had the courage to go through with it at all. I could think, “Well, she’s a really nice, loving, giving person, and she has braces, so maybe it wouldn’t be a mortal sin for me to get them, too.”

When the braces cause me pain, I can’t help feeling that it is penance that I am required to serve for my vanity.

I have bad gum recession and extremely sensitive teeth where some of their necks are completely exposed. This causes additional pain with the braces—especially when I am trying to dislodge food that has become stuck in the braces. More penance. And I have an additional fear that when all is said and done, my newly straightened teeth will all fall out and I will have to get dentures anyway.

So on top of the regular pain of braces, I have the “through the roof” pain of my sensitive exposed tooth roots, and loads of guilt and fear.

It was an experience having these braces put on.

I went in to the orthodontist’s office wondering if I really wanted to do this. The technician greeted me and said, “How are you today?” Suddenly, I felt tears welling up behind my eyes and a choking lump in my throat. “I’m kind of nervous,” I whispered, willing myself not to cry. Forty-two year olds don’t cry in orthodontist offices before anything has even happened. “You look kind of nervous,” the technician told me. I guess it’s hard not to look nervous when it’s taking all your powers of concentration to hold back a flood of humiliating tears. The orthodontist came over and the technician said to him, “This is Ruth. She’s a little nervous.”

“Well,” said Dr. Smith, “Ruth has had braces before, so maybe she knows what she’s in for.”

I’m thinking, Don’t remind me. Don’t make me think about this. Should I bolt? What would happen if I bolted? Could I get any of my money back?

Anyway, I laid down in the chair and they inserted numerous plastic frameworks into my mouth to hold it open, hold my lips back, hold my teeth apart. After they had everything jimmied open, wider than I thought my lips could even stretch, they took some more plastic, this attached to rubber bands, and used it like a sling to hold my tongue back. “Don’t worry,” said the technician as her sling crammed my tongue into the back of my throat, “Just breathe through your nose.”

I deserve this, I thought. I deserve this for being vain. The corners of many plastic apparatuses poked me in the gums, in the insides of my cheeks, in the end of my tongue. I certainly couldn’t talk, and I could barely breathe. It’s cottonwood season, and my allergies are under control only as long as I can supplement breathing through my mouth.

Then began the process. I looked out the window at the leaves of a birch tree and the light sky behind them. I tried to travel far away in my mind. But my lower face was assaulted by tubes, fans, solutions, things that gurgled and things that beeped. Something was sucking the saliva out of my mouth while something else was painted on my teeth. At one point, she rinsed each tooth individually with a blast of icy cold water. That about sent me to the moon when she came to the sensitive ones. When my body started arching out of the chair, she said, “Oh, did that hurt a little bit?” I closed my eyes and prayed, wondering if God would hear me if He was displeased because of what I was doing.

She put a pair of tinted glasses on me and one on herself and used some sort of laser light to do something. The heat of the laser light was wretched against the sensitive teeth, too. I wondered, What am I doing? How am I ever going to stand this for two years? How much is it going to hurt when they chisel these things off again? What if I die before I get them off? She handed me a piece of amber plastic on a stick, sort of like a mirror or a fan, and told me to hold it over my mouth. I had to hold it there for an eternity, and I have no idea why.

In the end I survived. Eating is no longer any fun At all. Milkshakes don’t even taste good after awhile. I eat breakfast and dinner and try to survive on liquids for lunch. Last night I found some forgotten avocados in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator and I made them into guacamole. I tried to eat some on a chip, but quickly decided that it was much better eaten off a fork.

My SWEET, LOVING, KIND, GENEROUS husband purchased me a Water-Pik for cleaning my teeth. This after I found that to brush and floss left me with a stiff neck, a flushed face, pulsing gums and throbbing teeth. Every time I brushed and flossed, I ended up needing to take some painkillers and lie down.

Now I have a tooth cleaning routine that takes forever but doesn’t hurt too much:
  1. Rinse with Listerine to dissolve as much stuff as possible (like plaque). Listerine really does make your teeth feel smooth.
  2. Brush the brackets and the tips of my teeth with a baking soda toothpaste.
  3. Clean my gumline and between my teeth with the Water Pik (and I put a solution of hydrogen peroxide in it).
  4. Rinse with Biotene, a mouthwash that is designed to restore an optimum balance to your saliva to help prevent plaque buildup and any other tooth or gum disease.

Little by little I am getting used to this. I still get palpitations when I have to see someone for the first time since it all started and explain why I have braces.

Make that, explain that I have braces.

Because why do I have braces? Why do I? I barely ever wear makeup and I do not color my hair. I hate shopping, and I rarely update my wardrobe. I rarely dress up. So why do I feel the need to fix my teeth?

Part of it is probably guilt because they are crooked and my parents had paid to fix them when I was a teenager (and they really, really needed it then). Nobody at that time told me I should wear my retainer forever, the way they tell kids now. But I did wear it fairly often until 1995 when we moved and I lost it.

In thirteen years, my teeth shifted drastically, and they were continuing to shift. I could feel them shifting, the itchy, achy feeling in my gums.

The worst thing was my upper-front-right tooth, which was shifting out. By itself. If both my front teeth had been shifting out together, that might have been one thing, but one front tooth shifting out in front of all my other front teeth, angling out to the right as it went (even if it had been angling in toward the middle I might have been able to stand it). When I noticed that it even left a bump on the right side of my mouth when my lips were pulled over it, I became ultra self-conscious. And as I lay in bed and felt the teeth moving around, I worried about where it would end… if it would end.

I was afraid to smile. This is why my husband was in favor of the procedure. He says he wants me to smile again.

I should have given up my vanity and pride and just smiled with the tooth sticking out, but it was so hard for me. I would smile carelessly, forgetting myself, and then a shock like pain would shoot through my chest as I realized what I had exposed and quickly pulled my lips back over the ugly tooth, wondering if I had frightened any small children.

God forgive me and help me, and please don’t let me die in braces and please don’t let all my teeth fall out.


Esther said...

Hi Ruth,

I've been reading your blog now and then for several months. I don't remember if I've ever commented before, but thought I should do so now.

Thanks for the chuckle! I can totally relate to what your talking about as far as the guilt about doing something that isn't about survival. You should see my house! I feel guilty about all of the starving children of the world and about people living in alleys, so I neglect the appearance of my own home. I'm thinking lately, though, that aesthetics are an area of liberty. I don't think that God meant for us to live totally utilitarian lives. Just look at the beauty around us. If He had wanted us to merely survive, He wouldn't have made fragrant and beautiful blossoms, reflective material like water in a stream on a sunny day, or, well, color.

God appreciates the aesthetic. The construction of the tabernacle is proof of that. The instructions He gave were not only in how to build the structure itself, but in how to do it beautifully. I encourage you to read that (it's in Deuteronomy, I think) and remember that every time lies about the vanity of braces pop into your head. Just give thanks and smile for Jesus! ;)



ruth said...

Thank you for your kind words, Esther.

MacCárthaigh Family said...

I too agree with what Esther says. Seems sad to think of you not smiling because of your teeth...
Hope it all works out well for you.

Anonymous said...

We need to feel comfortable in the world. You did the right thing for you. I hope the time flies quickly and soon you can smile unselfconsciously again.