Invisalign Wash-Up

After 28 sets of Invisaligns at two weeks each, I finished my adventures in orthodontia back in December, right before Christmas.  They ground off the remaining “attachments” (little gobs of glue they put on your teeth, the better for the plastic to jerk things around in there), glued a wire across the back of my lower front teeth, and made me a set of heavy-gauge plastic retainers.

First, the retainers:  They are of a much heavier gauge of plastic than the
“trays” that one wears during the process.  This is first and foremost because they are supposed to last . . . well, you’re more or less going to be wearing them until you assume room temperature.

[Sidebar:  I have to say I’m not sure I fully understand one thing about retainers:  My mother, born in the very early 1930s, had orthodontia as a teenager.  To my knowledge, running all the way back to the late 1960s (in other words, prior to her 40th birthday), she’s never used retainers of any sort.  And yet here her teeth are, 60-plus years later, still right where they were left.  I know much younger people, people my age, who have foregone their retainers and now their teeth have got underway on them.  Ordinary divergence between patient outcomes?  Or did they just do a more permanent job of it, back in the day?]

Among other things, the heavier plastic makes the retainers much less flexible than the trays.  The result is a bit counter-intuitive:  While heavier, they’re also more prone to tearing.  I went 58 weeks in those trays (the final set I wore an additional two weeks while my retainers were being made) and never had a moment’s trouble with any of them, no matter how many times a day I popped them in and out, or how vigorously I cleaned them with my toothbrush.  I’ve already torn my upper retainer.  Fortunately it’s not completely in two, and so I can use it while they make me a replacement, but “gingerly” looks to be the watchword in retainer replacement.

The Invisaligns did a yeoman job on my lower teeth, particularly the front ones.  They’d been oddly spaced and noticeably crooked, and now they’re all more or less straight and line up with each other very nicely, subject only to the wear on the upper edges resulting from 40-odd years’ use while crooked.

On the upper teeth the result is more mixed.  My spitting gap is gone; it wasn’t Terry Thomas-sized by any measure, but it was big enough I felt horribly self-conscious about it.  The next teeth outboard of the two front ones also now line up very nicely.  But I still have whacking great gaps in front of my canines.  As in, I can’t tell that they shifted location at all.  I don’t know if this is a common feature of all orthodontia — that those teeth just can’t be moved at all — or whether it’s a limitation of the Invisalign technology, or whether those teeth have to fit over the lower teeth in a very specific location and that location in my mouth at least leaves them with space in front of them.  Whatever the reason, I have to say I am a bit disappointed with that outcome.  But the rest of it went so well I suppose I ought to shut my pie hole and be thankful I had a smooth, pain-free 58 weeks that did as well as it did.  [N.b.  My orthodontist during one of my periodic visits exclaimed how well everything was going and allowed that adult male patients were just his favorite because we do as we’re told, without complaint or drama.  I looked at him and dead-panned:  “Well, after you’ve been married a while obedience and discomfort become second nature.”]

The one thing which I do notice is an alarming, and extraordinarily painful change that first came to my attention last summer during peach season.  There is a small chain of grocery stores around here, family owned.  Each summer they get their fresh freestone peaches from an outfit in Georgia — same orchard every year.  In round numbers, they’re worth crawling over burning coals on top of a layer of broken glass to get to.  They put on their sign out front when “the truck” is supposed to be there with the first load.  They’ll sell them loose, but they also sell them in half-bushel boxes.  That’s how I buy them.  Last summer I think I bought either eight or ten boxes during the course of the season.  I give a bunch away just because I think everyone should have a fresh peach.  You cannot be completely dejected or sour with a plate of fresh peaches in front of you.  Not in human physiology.  But the vast bulk of my peach purchasing went down the ol’ hatch thank you very much.

I noticed, when I’d lunched on six or eight peaches (cut into eighths: first you slice all the way around the pit vertically along the “seam”; then you make your second slice also vertically but at a 90-degree offset to the first; then you slice horizontally around the midsection.  A simple twist and the pieces fall away from the pit and you’re in business), and then went to brush my teeth immediately afterward before putting my trays back in, instantly when the toothpaste touched my teeth, I experienced this agonizing shooting pain.  It felt like someone was pile-driving electrified hot ice picks into my jaws.  As mentioned, this was not a brushing-related sensation; the pain was instantaneous and began in precisely that split-second when the toothpaste first touched any part of a tooth.  The only thing I can think of is that the acid or the sugar in the peach residue on my teeth set up some sort of chemical reaction with some ingredient in the toothpaste.  The pain would be less — by a little bit — if I ate a meal immediately on top of the peaches and before brushing my teeth.  And when I say “a little bit” what I mean to convey is that I didn’t explode in my best bo’sun’s-locker vocabulary at the sheer agony of it all, damning the Invisalign company and all its works.  But even later that evening I could still feel residual pain when brushing my teeth for the final time before bed.

All that was, as mentioned, last summer, and Peach Season 2016 is long gone.  What I notice now is that any heavily sugared food, such as cookies (I confess that if Girl Scout Samoas are a deadly sin, I’m in trouble . . bad trouble), or chocolate — even dark chocolate, which I do enjoy — or donuts, or anything that has a large concentration of sugar in it produces very similar results, if not quite so intensely.  I generally don’t eat candy at all (except for a piece of dark chocolate once in a blue moon), but back in January I bought myself a bag of sour Skittles; it was really the first candy I’d eaten, just about, since starting Invisaligns in November, 2015.  I do love me some Skittles.  The sour variety has what I have to assume is some sort of acid-based granular frosting on the individual pieces to give them the sourness.  That was on a Monday.  That night when I went to brush my teeth I thought I was going to die.  It was Friday morning before my teeth quit exploding in my mouth at the first touch of toothpaste.

I will point out that I obtain the same result whether the sugar/acid to which I expose my teeth is purely natural, as in the case of a fresh peach, or completely unnatural and fully processed, as in the case of those Skittles.

I have never had sensitive teeth before, to anything.  Not to hot, not to cold, not to any particular sort of food.  I’ve used Lord only knows how many different sorts of toothpaste over the years, with never a moment’s discomfort from any of it, ever.  The only thing I can imagine is that, having jerked around my teeth from where they grew into my jaws over 40 years ago, areas of the enamel are now exposed that have never been exposed before, and those areas are either thinner or otherwise not accustomed to the chemical reactions that occur when whatever-it-is in toothpaste comes into contact with sugar and/or acid.

So, for such of Gentle Reader who might be contemplating shoving around one’s teeth later in life, be advised that the down-side to having a fully-formed jaw is that it is not going to grow around your teeth’s’ roots as protectively as it would if you had the re-alignment done at a time when your skeletal bones were actively growing into their final configurations.

I’m still getting used to the idea of not having to floss, brush, and scrub immediately I eat, whenever I eat.  It feels like I’m cheating at something.  I do floss, but I can do that sitting at my desk.  And if I need to get up and take a break from slogging away, I’ll go and brush as well.  But I don’t have to shove that plastic back in my mouth, and that makes all the difference.  This prisoner sure ain’t missing his shackles, not even a little.

So that was Invisaligns for me.  Non-traumatic, un-painful, and more or less successful.

A Difficult Season

I am, as mentioned, a small-town lawyer.

This is the Christmas season in a small town.  It is the time of year when people — clients, neighbors, business associates, and others — go flitting about town delivering plates of delightfully decadent snacks.  Most of it falls under the heading of Death by Sugar and Cholesterol, but sometimes it will actually have nutritional value (those veer towards Death by Sodium).

What I’m getting at, here, is that it’s all insanely good food, made personally by people you know, and by the end of the season you can easily find yourself carrying another 10-15 pounds you didn’t have the day before Thanksgiving.

Unless, of course, you’re wearing your Invisalign trays, and it’s just too much of a pain in the wazzoo to pop them out, snarf down a chunk or two of peanut butter fudge (with walnuts) . . . and then have to go through the whole ritual* of flossing, scrubbing, and brushing.  In that case you moon about the table in the office kitchen, speculating on whether it would be (damned subjunctive mood) more enjoyable to get outside some country ham biscuits, or the peanut butter fudge aforesaid, or the home-made brittle, or the fruitcake, or the oatmeal raisin cookies, or the . . . . stop it! leave me alone! I can’t take it any more!!!

But none of it is for thee, O Wearer of Invisaligns.  You must wander on, past open doors with your co-workers wading into the goodies and chit-chatting back and forth on how they just love it when Mrs. So-and-So breaks out the cookie sheets and get the wind properly in her sails.

I  can tell it’s going to be a long Christmas season.

*[The other evening, as I was ruefully scrubbing the trays for what felt like the 157th time that day, I realized that what I most felt like was a monk, wearily chanting away at the liturgical hours, 24/7/365.  Matins, lauds, prime, sext, none, vespers, compline, and so forth, endlessly, in a loop.  I don’t know if they were into orthodontia at Cluny, but for eternal dreariness I’ll back Invisaligns against the Rule of St. Benedict any day.]

Braces and Me

This will be the introductory and title post on a brand-new category on this blog.

I am, unless I turn out to defy all reasonable mortality expectations, emphatically on the wrong side of the halfway mark in my life.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been — with good reason — embarrassed by my smile, to the point that I generally try not to smile, especially not when there is a camera in operation.  My teeth are widely and irregularly spaced, are not terribly straight, and by this point in life are pretty well-stained by years of propping up a good portion of the world’s coffee growers.  Some time ago, on Instapundit, I ran across a link to an article about a study that some researchers did on what, exactly, people first notice when they meet a stranger, with a specific view towards what prompts a favorable versus an unfavorable reaction in them.  The results were broken down by male and female.  I can’t remember much about the article at this point (and a half-hearted attempt to find it just now came up dry), but what I do recall is that both men and women responded that the top thing they noticed, both favorable and unfavorable, were the teeth.  Not the eyes, not — for women — the breasts, not the butt or the legs or the hair (unless perhaps hairy legs?), but the teeth.

My pediatric dentist repeatedly advised my parents back in the day not to put braces on our teeth “until our heads quit growing,” his point being, I guess, that it doesn’t really do much good to align the teeth in a skull the dimensional relationships in which are still changing.  Can’t argue with that as a proposition of theory.  On the other hand, the world is full of adult people running around with beautiful smiles and who had braces slapped on them at age 14 or so.  As well, back then I don’t think my parents could have afforded braces in any event, so perhaps his recommendation, however ill-advised, was superfluous.  I will say this much about this dentist’s competence:  He never once did bite wings on my brother or me, with the result that when I went for my DODMERB (Dept. of Defense Medical Examination Review Board) physical, in connection with applications to the service academies and NROTC, and that dentist actually did shoot my mouth, he looked at me and said (I still vividly recall this), “Kid, you’re going to lose some teeth if you don’t get some fillings ASAP.”  Sure enough, several of my teeth had enamel that hadn’t properly joined up in the cusp, thereby exposing the softer material underlying to a decade or more of abuse.  The cavities had penetrated down and hollowed them out, with the result that one is now a crown and the other — or rather, its remains, as that crown came off years ago and I didn’t have the money to replace it — is just the stumps of roots surrounding the post of the root canal.  It will have to be pulled and an implant — which I also can’t really afford — stuck in its place.  So much for my pediatric dentist’s competence.

And then I was grown and in the Navy and then law skool and then came marriage and three children and suddenly here I am on the back side of life and still embarrassed to smile at strangers.  So for my birthday, recently, my wife and my mother cooked up the notion of getting me braces.  The wife is from California, where a perfectly-aligned blazing white smile is an article of faith right up there with “global warming” and the benefits of regulating capitalistic enterprise out of existence, and so all three of my boys have not only been dragged to a very nice Jewish dentist but also a very nice Jewish orthodontist for years now.  [Lest Gentle Reader task me with ethnic animosity for that last remark, I’ll pass along that where the wife grew up, most of her neighbors and playmates were Jewish, they all went to Jewish orthodontists and dentists (as did the (Roman Catholic) wife and her 137 sisters), and they all had perfect teeth.  The idea that the guy hammering away at her and the kids’ teeth is Jewish is in the nature of medical comfort food for her; I’m not sure she’d trust a goy to Get It Right.  I say that in all seriousness; her own life experiences have imprinted in her psyche the notion that if you want the job done right, the first time, with no bullshit or tap-dancing, all else being equal you go find a Jewish guy to do it.]

And so several weeks ago I too made the trek.  I’d figured I was going to get me a “grill,” as I’m told such things are now called.  Hadn’t made up my mind how I was going to respond to people’s commenting on what someone my age is doing wearing a teenager’s dental devices.  Sometimes the truth is the simplest, after all:  These are a birthday present from my wife and parents.  But lo! when I got there I found that what was proposed was not the zareba of steel (festooned with pieces of the wearer’s last meal) that we all knew and loved as children, but rather something calling itself “Invisaligns” (cute name; get it? “invisible” and “align”).  They’re clear (mostly) plastic brackets (“trays” is what the manufacturer calls them) that are custom-manufactured to clamp in a progressive series over the wearer’s teeth and slowly jerk them from where they are to where they ought to be.

The process starts with shoving a tiny camera — I think it’s a laser beam — in to image the patient’s mouth in a series of probably 40 or more separate shots, front sides, back sides, and tops.  The computer collates all the individual shots taken and produces a fully-rotatable, three-dimensional image of exactly what each tooth looks like, where it is in relation to the others, and how it is aligned relative to the jaw.  It’s pretty neat to see, to be truthful, when you’re looking from the inside of your jaw out at the backsides of all your teeth, a tongue’s-eye view, so to speak.  Very much a what’ll-they-think-of-next sort of sensation.  The orthodontist then takes that computer imagery and uses it to design a program of “trays” which will, in the proper sequence and at the proper speed, move the patient’s teeth into their proper locations.  At least for the present, each set of “trays” is worn for two weeks.  The orthodontist can scroll you through your planned progression right there on the screen, so that you can, in a quasi-time-lapse sequence, see exactly how your teeth are going to be moving.  Or at least that’s the idea.

After about six weeks or so you receive your first sets of trays.  They just snap over your teeth and that’s that.  Unless someone’s looking very carefully they really are not obtrusive to the observer.  You can’t fully close your teeth with them in, of course, because the thickness of the plastic encases the entire exposed surface of every tooth.  So if you try to put your teeth together and grin it looks a bit like you’re snarling.

You have to wear them at least 22 hours a day.  You can’t eat with them in.  You can’t drink anything hot (like coffee, tea, or soup) because of the risk of the plastic softening.  You’re not advised to drink anything, like red wine, that would stain them.  About the only thing they allow you can consume without taking them out is water.  After eating you have to floss, brush your teeth, and clean your “trays”; you of course have to do so upon rising and before going to bed.  What this works out to is that if you’re at all diligent you’re going to end up brushing and flossing anywhere from four to six times a day.  It also means you’re going to lose weight during the process.  It’s such a pain in the butt to eat that you pretty rapidly get to the point where it’s just not worth it.  Since I can start to miss a meal or 20, that’s not really a bug but a feature for me.

In terms of cleaning, my orthodontist adjured me to avoid brushing with tooth-whitening toothpaste (risk of scratching and compromising transparency) or denture cleaners (too harsh).  In fact, the product specifically recommended to me was regular old Dawn dishwashing liquid (the blue kind; not sure why but the color was specifically part of the recommendation).  So now at the office and at home I have a cup and a small bottle of Dawn.  Before I eat (if at home), or while I’m flossing and brushing (if at the office), I’ll pop my “trays” into a cup of lukewarm water with a tiny dollop of Dawn in it.  Then after brushing I’ll rinse the Dawn off under running water and use a tiny bit of toothpaste to scrub them down.  I figure even if the plastic gets a little scarred, at the worst I’ll be done with that set in another ten or so days and what’s it to me.

How to track how long you’ve had your trays out?  I hit upon the notion of setting the timer on my phone at two hours each morning.  Then, when I pop them out to eat or drink, I start the timer counting down.  When I put them back in I pause the timer and I have exactly how much time for that day is left.  I find that I generally am left with 45 or so minutes at the end of each day, and that’s with eating my meals quickly but not bolting (I trained in Germany and so eat pretty fast in any event, although nowhere near as fast as the Germans can).

Discomfort?  I had a sense of movement for about two or three days with the first set of trays, and then it went away.  I just started the second set on Thanksgiving Day, and I have to say I really didn’t notice much movement at all, and what little I did has already vanished.  I don’t know whether it’s that I’m just fortunate enough not to be bothered by the process — just as some people experience extreme pain with traditional braces and others little or none, so also with Invisaligns — or whether my teeth, being mounted in a bone jaw that is several decades older and more brittle than what these things were designed to deal with, are simply successfully resisting the trays’ plastic and so in effect moving the plastic, instead of the other way around, but I’ve experienced so far nothing that I can describe as discomfort.  That may change, of course.  With the next set they’re going to glue tiny spuds onto my teeth at various places — the precise number and location varies with the specific patient — the better to jerk things around.  That may start the circus; maybe not.

I will say that having a set of large foreign objects in the mouth is disconcerting.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.  The plastic’s coefficient of friction is noticeably different from that of your teeth’s surfaces, and so the insides of your lips feel like they’re sticking to your teeth as you try to speak.  Additionally, because the plastic fully encloses the teeth’s surfaces, you cannot force air between your teeth while wearing your trays, which alters your pronunciation of certain vocables like “f” and “th”.  I also have the sensation of dryness in the mouth, largely as a result of the tongue’s wanting to “stick” to the back sides of the teeth.

Some days ago I was planning on drinking me a beer or twelve.  One thing I’d not seen was any warning on whether the alcohol in alcoholic beverages has any deleterious effect on the plastic, either visually or structurally.  So I Googled it, and came up with a raft of blogs about Invisaligns (apparently I’m not the only person who likes to drink me some beer, trays or no trays), including this one.  The poor ol’ gal who runs the linked blog has had, to judge from her posts, what must be in a very close running for Very Worst Orthodontic and Periodontic Experience, Ever.  In addition to needing her teeth straightened, her natural smile showed an extent of upper gum which she found embarrassing.  In all truth, how her smile used to look (she posted some pictures) didn’t seem unattractively extreme, but then it’s not my smile.  It’s hers.  The long and short is that she’s spent quite a bit of time, and more than a little money, as well as some pretty significant pain, and for whatever reason her mouth isn’t cooperating.  Teeth that won’t stay in place (after 955 days of Invisaligns . . . I was told about 18 months), a failed surgery to correct how much upper gum is exposed when smiling (together with a visible surgical scar across the smile).  The heart goes out to her.  I’ve been humiliated to see a picture of my own smile for getting on for 40 years.  Don’t give up, I guess I’d say to her; not yet.

The answer, the by way, is that you most certainly can drink beer with your trays in.  Your mouth will feel like the non-slip tile floor in a Burger King’s men’s room, of course, and from comments I’ve run across it seems the breath matches.  But then again, drinking beer in any significant quantity (as I like to do when with my friends) leaves your mouth feeling like that tile floor in any event, and who can forget Kurt Vonnegut’s description of breath that smells “like mustard gas and roses”?  Besides, when I’m drinking me some beer it’s not like I’m trying to pick up girls.  Too old, too out of shape, too behind the times for that.  Oh yeah, and I’m married, too.  All of which is to say that at least in my own Life Condition, the watchword is “splice the mainbrace” and enjoy.

I will vouchsafe Gentle Reader further updates from time to time.