When I was a child, I never had braces. I don’t know if this was because of poor dental coverage, the expensive nature of braces, or I didn’t need them. Maybe all three. But as I traversed the path from cute little blonde haired street urchin to ruggedly handsome upstanding member of society with a full head of dirty blonde hair, my teeth have , at some point, stopped coordinating their growth. Instead, each tooth has followed its own individual path, cause some of them to drift farther and farther apart from each other.
The number of people who’ve told me it’s not that big of a deal, that hardly anyone would notice, or to stop being such a baby about this, cannot be counted on two hands. However, I am nothing if not consistent in my disregard for helpful advice from people smarter than me. I live in a world where I constantly see pictures of myself speaking on stage, and in any one of them, when you look closely, there are these teeth, scattered like randomly placed tombstones in an pet cemetery no one remembers, except for the one guy who keeps burying the same dead cat there over and over for some reason.
I’ve lived with the for the first ten years of my comedy career. There’ve been a million things more important. But here I am in the middle of my life, and I find myself financially stable enough to do something about this. And the obvious answer, since I’ve seen so many people achieve great results from it, was Invisalign.
There are a number of teeth straightening options for adults these days, but I believe most of the ones that don’t involve braces are basically the same. They’re small plastic trays fitted to your teeth, but also shaped to push your teeth slightly closer together. You wear them for two weeks or so, and then you trade them (not literally, no one wants your old invisalign trays) for another set that’s slightly tighter than the last. You do this over a period of time until you’ve coerced your teeth into a position that more closely resembles the teeth of your local news anchor. I asked my dentist which method/brand I should go with, and he suggested Invisalign, because the progress is overseen by an actual orthodontist you can see personally. I grant you, he may be a member of the ADA branch of The Illuminati, tasked with trapping me in the system of tooth care providers trying to hold a monopoly on the lucrative practice of mouth medicine, but I like the guy and thought he had a point.
I made a consultation appointment to see if I was even a candidate for Invisalign. I was. I didn’t ask what would disqualify me as a candidate. I guess maybe if you had a gnarly meth habit and your teeth had the density of balsa wood, they may deny you. But I’ve only done illegal meth once or twice. I get laboratory created premium methamphetamine from CVS monthly as part of my ADHD treatment. So I don’t need that cheap stuff. So, I was happy to learn I could move forward with this chance for a mouth that looked more like that of my friends who went to private school growing up.
The next step was to sell me on the procedure. I told the orthodontist that he really didn’t need to hardsell me, since I knew I wanted this, but he wasn’t taking any chances. So, he leaned by chair back, jammed one of those lip spreaders into my mouth, and then used some kind of laser scanner on my teeth and gums. This produced a “3D” rendering* of my teeth on the computer monitor in front of us.
Do you want to feel horrible about yourself as a person? Do you want to be reminded that no matter how together you seem, you are still haunted by the consequences of some very bad decisions? Try taking a look at your teeth after you’ve removed your head and face from the picture. Looking at this image rotate 360 degrees as the orthodontist spoke, I couldn’t help but recall every time I’d used my teeth to open a bottle, pull the insulation off of a wire, snip a fishing line, serve as pair of pliers when trying to turn some bolt on a small object, or chomp down on every coughdrop or piece of hard candy I’ve ever been too impatient to finish the correct way. It is a grizzly view.
As you stare at this model, surprised by how much it looks like the teeth of some prehistoric fossil, it morphs into a line of nice straight teeth that look like there so close together, no whistle would even thing about escaping from between them. Clearly, this is the preferred oral state. Sign me up.
And they did sign me up. Invisalign is definitely more expensive than some of the strip mall/teeth by mail services I’ve seen advertised. The original cost was around $4,000. I’m lucky enough to have dental coverage that knocked $1,500 off the total. I handed over a down payment that made me cry a little as I signed the receipt, and the rest is billed monthly to my American Express card, so I can at least get some miles out of these teeth.
The actual process of straightening your teeth is pretty low tech. The technician superglued a number of posts to my teeth. These posts have corresponding catches in the plastic trays you wear. These lock together and hold the trays on your teeth while nudging your teeth close to alignment. You don’t notice the posts really except the adhesive tastes like shit, and you’ll be replacing them often if they have to put on on a crown. Otherwise, they showed me how to put on and take off the trays, and sent me out into the world with the first six. You’re supposed to go back every three months for a check up, and to get your next set of trays.
If your kink is being punched in the face, you are in for a treat. Because for the next year, your mouth is going to feel like you just walked away from a barroom brawl. The first tray is pretty bad, because you’re not used to having them in your mouth. So, you’ll end up scratching your tongue on the plastic edge. Your teeth will have a constant dull throb from the pressure. The worst part will be when you take them off to eat, brush your teeth or whatever. Every time I pulled these trays off, trying to free them from their posts, I felt like I was going lose every tooth in my mouth. It was hell.
You’ll be able to tell that they’re working once they’re off. You’re bite will already feel slightly different after the first day. And you’ll figure out how to pop the trays off using only your tongue, and in a way that has minimal pain. Eventually, you’ll even get used to the constant pressure on your teeth. And once all that happens, you’ll open up a new set, and go through it all again.
As I write this, I SHOULD be on my tenth set of trays. But I apparently have a much lower tolerance for mouth pain than I thought. Because, I have been on tray seven for about a month and a half now. This tray hurt so much when I put it in, I stopped after a couple of days of spitting blood into the sink each morning. I took a week off entirely. Then I put in the previous tray for week, thinking maybe it just needed a little longer. But seven days later, tray seven still felt like each tooth had a separate pair of pliers attached to it and was being pulled by a different person. I set them aside, and really didn’t know if I was going to go forward.
I tried two more times, failing each time, and honestly, if I hadn’t paid up front, I’d probably just accept that this is what my teeth look like. However, I’m a sucker for the sunk cost fallacy. So, this week I picked up tray seven and put it back in. It still hurts a ton, but I’m pushing through thanks to a combination of gum numbing gel, ibuprofen, and crying. I only have nine more trays to make it through.
So, if you’re thinking of getting Invisalign, and you came across this post in your search for information on what to expect, just recognize, you’re in for some serious discomfort.
Oh, I should mention that it IS working. You can definitely tell a difference between how my teeth looked before tray one and how they look at tray seven. If there wasn’t any difference, this post would have been a lot shorter and just told you not to even think about it. But, it’s showed me just enough that I’m onboard for suffering another eighteen weeks.