Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Orthodontist

We took Amelia to the orthodontist today, on the advice of our dentist. I felt bad about this visit. So bad, in fact, that I postponed it twice. Part of this is my own orthodontic experience. I had two years of headgear and three years of braces. All in all, I had 15 teeth pulled, and a second outpatient procedure to have my frenulum labii inferioris clipped. (Don't follow that link. You really don't want to know). It was a painful and grueling experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. 

But, I'm an adult now, and I can objectively see the need for orthodontic work. I was willing to put all of this aside. And the orthodontist we chose seems like a genuinely nice guy, for someone who's going to be rooting around my daughter's mouth. He has video games and a soft-serve machine in the lobby, for goodness' sake. So, I had no idea why I still felt so uncomfortable. Then, I saw the slogan on the top of his insurance forms - Creating Healthy and Beautiful Smiles - and I knew exactly what was making me squirm.

I can get behind creating healthy smiles. Having bad teeth can lead to some serious jaw pain. I broke my jaw in 2004, and still wear a brace. In fact, I let a recent case of pneumonia go untouched for a week because I assumed that all of the face, neck, and sinus pain was simply my jaw acting up again. That's how bad jaw pain can be. Healthy smiles are important. But, beautiful smiles? Do we really have to go there? 

My daughter is seven years old. She is at the cusp of learning that, as a woman, her body will be scrutinized and criticized throughout her life. She's already asked me when she's going to get breasts. I'm sure that she's only a few years from realizing that the media has an ideal of womanhood that few women can actually achieve. Do we have to add her smile to the list of body image woes?

My daughter has the most beautiful smile I've ever seen. It was beautiful when she was toothless. It was beautiful when her mouth was filled with tiny baby teeth. It's beautiful now. It's beautiful because it's hers. I have a problem telling her that it's less than perfect, and I certainly don't want to tell her that we're trying to "fix" it. Because, if we're trying to "fix" her smile, what message does that send? Will she grow up thinking that she should "fix" her stomach, her legs, her breasts, and any other body part that doesn't fit society's ideals? 

When she's older, if she wants to alter her body for cosmetic purposes, that's her choice. But she's not yet old enough to make that decision. And I don't want to tell her that it's being made for her. That's a slippery slope, and not one I'm happy about treading. 

As we left the orthodontist's office, soft serve in hand, Amelia asked me why she's going to need braces. I decided not to focus on her overbite or the gap between her front teeth. I brought up my constantly clicking jaw, and told her that we're trying to avoid facial pain down the road. It's a hard concept for her to grasp, but it's better than the alternative - telling her that we're trying to create a beautiful smile. Because that would be an outright lie. Her smile is already beautiful. It always has been. 

Pictured: the smile that makes my day, every day. 


  1. I love all your posts, Monica. This one really makes me think. Raising boys is a very different experience, but I will also be careful what I say when we arrive at the orthodontist's office. (I think I know what doctor you're talking about - my dentist sent me there for a consultation. Wish the orthodontist I went to as a teenager had been that cool!) Oh, and I remember your girl's three-month-old grin very well, and it WAS beautiful. Still is.

    1. I agree. He's a good orthodontist, as far as having a friendly office environment. The one I went to didn't share that attitude, and I think that's part of the reason I had such an aversion to all of my dental work.

      And your kids' smiles are gorgeous, too.

  2. Love this Monica! And I agree, her smile is beautiful!

    We will be headed to the orthodontist as well, with both girls. It's something I assume we all are doing because an aligned bite is something that is part of having a healthy body. But, of course, the nasty reality is that women's bodies are constantly critiqued. OY. Being a mother to girls ain't easy, is it?

    1. I love Z and E's smiles, too. They're beautiful kids and I'm not just saying that because I'm a little biased when it comes to my nieces.

      And, no it's not easy. Oy, indeed.