Fun With Retainers


I got my braces off at a bad time. Not that there really is a bad time to get braces off, especially when you’re 49-and-a-half and you kept an actual chart to count down the days until you lose the metal in your mouth. It was a bad time because I was getting ready to move and was throwing out everything that couldn’t be stuffed into a large tote and taken to the beach.

At my last visit to the orthodontist’s office, they asked if I wanted my before and after pictures. No. The cement cast of your teeth? No. Wanna accidentally walk out with another one of our Newsweeks? Uh, no, why? Xrays and films? No. Printouts of your bills? God, no. 

I walked out with one thing and one thing only: A cute orange sparkly plastic case that held my retainers.

During the 11 months and 7 days that I had braces, I had fantasies that involved eating apples without the aid of a peeler and and a sharp knife, smiling for photos, flossing my teeth in less than 25 minutes, saying “S” words with confidence, and having people meet me without sarcastically rolling their eyes.

The orthodontist and his Pips (they are like backup singers or Playboy bunnies - in the nurse-doctor world, orthodontist helper girls dress alike and stand behind the doctor and repeat the chorus after him) fail to tell you lots of things when they’re getting you to sign the contract and show up for your first visit when they “band” you.  (See? They don’t even call it “putting on your braces.”  They make it sound like you’re going to a rock concert or something.) They don’t tell you your gums will be so sore that you’ll cry like a little girl for the first four weeks. They don’t tell you you won’t be able to eat chicken, pork, beef, celery or peaches because you’ll get stringy foodstuff type particles stuck in places you didn’t even know you had and you’ll consider having surgery to get them out. And here’s the big one - they don’t tell you that you’ll be wearing a retainer around during the day after you’re brace-free.

I knew about retainers. I vowed to wear a retainer every night because I heard horror stories about adults who had braces, didn’t wear their retainers and had to get braces again. I even opted for the fixed retainer, a tiny chain link fence string that runs behind my bottom teeth.

“Get it, Mom,” my daughter, Cary, told me. “You’ll never even notice it’s there after a few days.”

Well I do notice it’s there, but I’m not blaming Cary. She’s joined the Pips in downplaying all the badness about braces; she could be a spokesmodel on infomercials now.

So I figured with the fixed retainer and my mature, adult willingness to wear my retainer at night (after everyone is asleep, including the dog and anyone who might come to our house unexpectedly), I could walk around during the day with my new, straight-teeth smile.

Yeah, well that’s not how it works.

“For the first three months, wear the Hawley retainer on top and the plastic retainer on the bottom pretty much all the time, as much as you can.  Then for the next nine months wear the retainers for at least 12 hours, including nighttime. And then after a year, you can wear them just at night.”

What? You lost for after the first “months.” 

“What do you mean, ‘pretty much all the time,’” I asked Pip Kristy. “You mean during the day, I’m supposed to wear this retainer?”

“As much as you can,” she answered. “Like, if you’re going out, you can take it off.”

“Going out? I’m always going out. I am going out. Going out is what I do constantly. There are days when all I do is go out. Go out, go out, go out, is on my list of things to do every single day.  If going out was a class, I’d have a degree in it. If there was a picture next to ‘going out’ in the dictionary, it would be a headshot of me and I would not be wearing a wire retainer.”

Okay!” Kristy screams.  “Fine. But you’ll know you need to wear it more if it feels tight when you put it on.”

And there it was! The scare tactic:  If you don’t wear the retainer, your teeth will move and you’ll end up back in braces, you stupid moron.

So what am I doing? I’m wearing my retainer during the day. Even when I go out, sometimes. If I think I don’t have to speak or open my mouth much, if I’m going to the dry cleaner where they don’t speak much English anyway and I can do a tight-lipped smile and a little salute instead of using words, I’ll wear the retainers. Because I’m not going back to braces. If you missed me in them the first time, you’ll just have to look at pictures. In the dictionary next to Adults Trying to Make Up for All They Missed as Privileged Kids.