Brace Yourself

By Julie Barzilay

Long waits in the orthodontist’s office. Rubber bands snapping mid-sentence. Broken retainers strewn across the bathroom counter. For a handful of upper school students, orthodontia-related dramas and traumas are not yet a metal-filled memory, but a thing of the present.

For most high-schoolers with braces, special circumstances are the culprit. Jason Mow ’09 had a cavity filling in a molar that fell out a few summers ago, which allowed a new cavity to develop and go all the way through the tooth. Mow had to be treated by a new dentist the second time around, and the new dentist pulled the molar instead of filling or capping it.

“Long story short, my teeth all shifted into the open space where the molar was, so I had to get braces to fix it back to normal,” Mow said. “They’re holding space open to get an implant when I’m old enough.”

Mow was less than thrilled to hear that he’d need braces as a sophomore, but he gritted his teeth and accepted the news.

“It was kind of necessary, so I just wanted to get it over with ASAP,” he said.

Mow got his top braces off a few months ago, and anticipates the removal of the bottom ones in about a month.

Claire Kao ’10 is all too familiar with the trials and tribulations of rubber bands and inconvenient dental decoration. She got braces in August of 2007, and hopes to get them off this summer. Kao was initially very depressed about having to wear braces to high school.

“I felt really weird coming to Upper School with braces,” she said. “But, it’s not that bad in perspective. My brother [Kalvin Kao ’04] got his braces the summer before his senior year in college, and will probably get them off a month before me this summer.”

College would be a much worse time to wear braces, she felt. Additionally, she has friends who got braces too early and now have to get braces a second time to correct their newly crooked teeth. She’d rather have them now for a couple of years than have had them in 3rd grade and have to deal with going back for a second round.

She said the social reaction was not as bad as she thought it could have been.

“Honestly, no one had a ridiculous reaction,” she said. “Though my six-year old cousin is absolutely fascinated with my braces and can never stop staring.”

Alex Edel ’09 is, like Mow, dealing with irregular circumstances. Ever since fifth grade, Edel’s dentists have spoken of a surgery she’d need at some point in her future, after her teeth and jaw stopped growing. She has an underbite because her lower jaw grew more than her upper jaw, and she has had braces to align teeth and set the stage for a major surgery she says she can’t put off any longer.

“I was supposed to get it two summers ago, then last summer, but now I really have to because the braces are starting to wear down the roots of my teeth,” she said. “When I get the surgery, I’ll get the braces off, finally.”

Edel will not be able to eat solid food for three weeks after the surgery, and will need to recover for still more weeks, but she is looking forward to freeing her mouth from orthodontial inhibitions once and for all.

Lauren Seo ’10 has had braces since she was in the fourth grade. Her orthodontist has never promised her a date for the removal of her braces, but she said he blames her for the rate of progress in her mouth; shirking rubber band responsibilities is a serious offense in this type of situation.

Mow has to wear Invisalign every day to keep the space open for his future implant, and has discovered an unanticipated side effect.

“I just find that it has definitely cut down on my ‘munching’ habits because I used to always be eating something, but now its just a hassle to take [the Invisalign] out and put it back in,” he said.

Orthodontist visits strike about once a month for most students, and can evoke many different types of emotions and memories for different people.

Eli Stein ’09 had braces from fifth to ninth grade. In Middle School, braces were the norm, he said, though his cousins taunted him with some pretty scary stories.

He had a relatively pleasant relationship with braces and didn’t feel any social awkwardness about having them as a freshman. He even went so far as to call going to the orthodontist the best part of his experience.

“My dad would always take me to the orthodontist, and he was in Westwood, right by Diddy Riese [an ice cream and cookie store],” he said. “We would always get ice cream sandwiches when I went to the orthodontist, so it was almost something to look forward to.”

Kao took the liberty of testing out a few orthodontists before landing on her current one.

There was one doctor who insisted that Kao’s jaw was the issue, not her teeth, and told her she would need to wear a chin strap.

“I told her that I would rather not wear unattractive headgear,” she said. “In response to my outright refusal she said, ‘But look at all these pretty patterns! And, you can decorate it too!’ After I left the office, she apparently told my mom that I was a spoiled brat.”