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I had a dental appointment yesterday. It wasn’t a big deal, except I apparently have a tooth with two cavities. My dentist said it wasn’t a big deal, because it was a “non-functioning tooth.” I didn’t specifically like the sound of that, but he reassured me that the tooth, when I bite down, doesn’t connect with any of the other teeth in my head. It merely exists, partially submerged in gum tissue. He said, “I’m going to treat this as a wisdom tooth and recommend an oral surgeon.”

He paused for a second, then said, “Unless you maybe want to go to an orthodontist and get your teeth fixed right.”

This was a sort of minor vindication for me. See, when I had braces, I went to the Sears Family Dental Center, which was not well known for quality. Still, my parents wanted my teeth fixed, and it was all they could afford, so that’s where we went. And then, as my dentist says, my teeth “relapsed.” And, apparently, one of my teeth sank into a quagmire of gum tissue, so I can’t brush it, and really nothing can be done with it short of removing it. Or, as he said, getting braces and possibly fixing it.

But my mom’s always blamed me for the teeth relapsing. She claims—and we actually got into yet another fight about it when I got home from my appointment—that I didn’t use my retainer enough. Which, okay, that wasn’t necessarily accurate. I was disobeying the medical advice and taking my mother’s advice, so maybe I didn’t use it enough, but it was only because she insisted it wouldn’t be a big deal.

See, he told me to wear it all the time, but it’s kinda difficult to talk with a retainer in your mouth, so my mother said, “When I had braces, my doctor only made me wear it at night,” and she told me I shouldn’t worry about it. So, I only wore it at night. Then, after a year or two (my orthodontist said I needed to wear the retainer for life), my mother said, “My doctor told me I only needed to wear the retainer for a year, so I think you’ll be okay.” So I stopped wearing it, and my teeth began to relapse fairly quickly, and I tried the retainer again, but it kept falling out because it no longer fit.

That was the end of the retainer.

My mother remembers the whole thing differently. She says that I absolutely refused to wear it, even at night, and she’d often sneak into my room at night (do you see why I’m not a big fan of my mom?) and find it sitting on my bed bookshelf. This is partially accurate, but that only happened when I started wearing the retainer for the second time and it didn’t fit; I’d wake up in the middle of the night and have sticky, disgusting retainer parts suctioned to my body, so I’d put it on the shelf.

She also insists that she never told me I could stop wearing it; she just said, at one point, that I only needed to wear it at night. Which, yes, she did, but she did that maybe two weeks after I got the retainer, and then told me I could stop a year or two later*.

Should I have been made to wear a retainer 24 hours a day for the rest of my life? I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not an orthodontist, but it just doesn’t seem right. It seems like the braces were botched, and the only way to solve that problem was to wear a retainer constantly. Then again, I had a pretty bad overbite (worse than my sister’s and my mom’s; I attribute it to the hillbilly DNA inherited from my father, who had no overbite because obviously it skips a generation), so maybe it was just necessary because of the nature of my case.

Still, my dentist kept saying that my orthodontic work was not done correctly, and that he’d recommend an orthodontist who would “do it right.” I’d like to think—although my mother insists this is impossible—that a skilled, trained dentist can look at somebody’s mouth and judge whether or not their orthodontic relapse was caused by not wearing a retainer or by botched work. It’s like a guitar player listening to somebody else play and knowing the guitar is just a hair out of tune, while people who have no idea can’t hear it and think it sounds fine.

I dunno, that seems logical to me. He’s probably looked inside thousands of mouths in his career, and I think he’s able to judge things based on tell-tale signs, such as—he explained to me—a tooth falling downward into gum tissue instead of pushing up and back against it.

But, gosh, what do I know?

At any rate, my mom has been talking quite frequently of late about springing for that Invisalign deal, so that getting braces again won’t be completely humiliating. At the same time, all she does is bitch about how we’re broke. So, obviously, we can’t really afford Invisalign, which is more expensive than normal braces. I feel like I’ll end up like Lisa Simpson, with the rusting headgear (“Dental plan!”).

Plus, the thing is, I don’t really want braces again. Granted, I’m no ladies’ man, but an easily hidden overbite is the least of my concerns. I thought I’d just get the tooth removed and be done with it, even though my mother—the one with the money—still insists that Invisalign is the answer.

So, as I always do when I get stressed out and need to feel worse, I called Lucy, who immediately told me that if I didn’t get braces again, more of my teeth would probably sink and need to be removed until I have none left. She’s no orthodontist, but neither am I, and she may have a solid point. I’d rather do the braces thing again than end up losing all my teeth or worse.

I think, if nothing else, I should go and see an orthodontist and see what he recommends. Or just talk to my dentist and see what he thinks is the best idea, and whether the whole losing-all-your-teeth thing is even a rational concern (knowing me, it’s probably very far-fetched).

* When she was a kid, she only had to wear her retainer for a year and decided, what with her medical doctorate in orthodontic care, that I should only have to wear it for a year, as well.

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