Bracing for Bankruptcy

I’ve done just about anything you can think of while sitting in our orthodontist’s waiting room. I’ve balance my checkbook. I’ve applied concealer to the dark circles under my eyes. I’ve watched “Toy Story” eight times. I’ve torn recipes out of magazines when no one was watching. I’ve discovered an old cough drop in the bottom of my purse, picked the lint off it, and eaten it.

With three kids in braces, I spend half my life in the orthodontist’s waiting room, and unfortunately, half our combined income too.

You’d think the orthodontist would have the decency to pluck a few bills from his mountain of insane profits to provide me with a reclining lounge chair or neck pillow for my waiting room naps. Alternatively, a nice cappuccino bar and mini-fridge with ice cold cans of Diet Coke would provide me with caffeine, obviating the need for naps. A desk and free Wi-Fi would enable me to do more multi-tasking than cleaning out my purse and catching up on women’s magazines. I mean, that’s the least he could do, considering.

Considering that my kids’ teeth never really looked all that crooked to begin with, but somehow, they ALL need full orthodontic treatment to include preparatory extractions, palate expanders, bands, brackets, adjustments, headgear and retainers.

My intuition told me there was a wide-spread conspiracy between our dentist, oral surgeon, orthodontist and insurance company to swindle me out of as much money as possible. But they knew that all they had to do was use big words, show me some murky x-rays, and put the fear of God in me that my kids’ mouths would soon become veritable train wrecks of snaggleteeth. They knew I would cave, and that’s exactly what I did.

Has it always been this way? I don’t think so.

Today, braces are a fashion accessory, as cool as a cell phone in kid’s jeans pocket or a Vera Bradley lunchbox. Conversely, when I was a kid, the general attitude toward any additional hardware such as orthodontics, glasses, orthopedic shoes, and back braces, was that they were instant fodder for ruthless bullying, and as such, should be avoided if at all possible.

I had the unfortunate experience of having braces while in the 5th grade in 1978. My orthodontist didn’t have to use his powers of persuasion to convince my parents to pay. To the contrary, my parents were begging on bended knee to please, for the love of God, do something about my teeth, which were spread so far apart, my brother had started referring to me as “The Rake.”

Unlike today’s trendy braces with their inconspicuously glued brackets, colorful bands and thin sparkling wire, every tooth in my 11-year-old head was cemented with gun-metal grey steel bands welded with cumbersome brackets connected by thick wire. I went from looking like “The Rake” to resembling the villain “Jaws” from 007’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

And of course there was the dreaded headgear. I remember picking the red-bandana patterned neck strap from a bin at the orthodontist’s office, which was a wholly inadequate consolation prize for the utter humiliation I felt when wearing the slobber-producing device in public.

There was no question about it – the only reason I suffered the embarrassment of braces in the 1970s was because my teeth were seriously screwed up and my parents were only too happy to pay for someone to fix them.

Nowadays, not only are the professionals trying to sell you on the latest orthodontic procedure to correct the most minor flaws, even the kids pressure you to sign on the dotted line just so they can pick bands to match their school colors. They won’t listen to reason. You can’t convince them by pointing out that Jay Leno would be nowhere today without his characteristic under bite, and Jewel would be slinging burgers at McD’s if she didn’t have that fang poking straight out of her face.

So here I sit, in the orthodontist’s waiting room, picking stuff out from under my fingernails, while somewhere across town, money is automatically being withdrawn from our dwindling checking account to pad the overstuffed coffers of our orthodontist.

And as we careen ever so slowly toward financial ruin in the name of orthodontic perfection and middle school fashion sense, I comfort myself with the knowledge that, with all this waiting room time, my purse has never been more organized.

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Comments: 9

  1. lauriebest April 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm Reply

    I just discovered your blog…it’s great! Now, fast forward a few years to what you hope will be your empty nest. Only it doesn’t remain empty…they keep coming back! My daughter and I are having a blast laughing and irritating one another as we get to know each other as adults…well, she’s an adult at least.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari April 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm Reply

      Coincidentally, this is a topic I am soon writing a column about — the different stages of parenting. They all have pros and cons. Empty nest sounds good to me now, but I’m sure I’ll cry my eyes out when they all leave the house!

      • lauriebest April 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm Reply

        Ah, but that’s the secret joy…they NEVER actually leave!

  2. whatssheuptonow April 16, 2012 at 7:26 pm Reply

    I laughed so hard at this!! Brilliant stuff. So true.. I had braces for 3 years and was stupid enough to not wear my retainers on the regular after they came off..resulting in my bottom teeth to now look worse than before I had the braces put on! – make sure your kids wear their retainers 24/7 if they need to once their braces come off haha. Would love for you to check out my blog too and tell me what you think 🙂

    • Lisa Smith Molinari April 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm Reply

      WORD re: retainers. I did not wear my retainer enough, and now I have one tooth that pokes a bit out – not like Jewel at least!

      • whatssheuptonow April 16, 2012 at 7:31 pm Reply

        Haha! It’s definitely a scheme by the orthodontists to get you back into their chairs and suck away even more money! You can get permanent retainers put in now behind your teeth instead of the plastic mouth gaurd ones I used to wear that you have to remember to put in!! Seems like a better option!

        • Lisa Smith Molinari April 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm Reply

          Oh God, don’t tell me there are more orthodontic appliances that they will try to get me to pay for….

  3. energywriter March 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm Reply

    Love it. I always carry a book or a puzzle book with me to keep me occupied. One entertains the other increases my vocabulary.

    One of my daughters had a permanent brace until she was 40. She had a gap in two front teeth and everytime the orthodontist removed it the gap reappeared. Seems to be doing okay now.

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