To begin, I got totally screwed over in the dental genes department. I was born with a pretty severe overbite and a mouth that was too small. (Seriously, I didn’t even know mouths could be “too small” until my dentist told me so.) And when my baby teeth fell out and my grown-up ones came in, my left front tooth decided it didn’t want to grow straight so it crossed over the right one in the most conspicuous way possible. My bottom teeth were a mess: crooked and out of line. I was a model patient for eager orthodontists. I endured shiny metal braces often decorated with multicolored rubber bands for four and a half years, an eternity in pubescent times. (I also had acne and wore glasses, to complete the trifecta of a fully tortuous teenage experience.)
Ill-fated genetics may have been to blame for that first round of wires, but the second round was entirely my fault. You know that retainer thing you always get after having braces, the thing your dentist orders you to wear every day for the rest of your life? Well, it turns out that thing is extremely important. I was lazy and ignored my dentist’s advice, and slowly but surely, my teeth started to move. My two front teeth began to cross again, and my bite began to revert to its old state.
I would by lying if I didn’t say that I panicked a little bit at the thought of wearing braces as an adult. Maybe it’s totally vain, but I worried that braces would make me feel totally unattractive. There’s an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda, after getting adult braces, goes on a date. Food gets stuck in her wires, the guy gets really uncomfortable, and the rest of the evening collapses. I remember panicking at the thought of guys being totally turned off at the sight of my metal mouth. Miranda-mouth could not happen to me.
But I’ve been wearing braces for eight months now, with four more to go. I can happily announce that the experience has not been nearly as traumatic as I envisioned. This is how I’m surviving, and how you can too, if you’re rocking some shiny brackets past age twenty-one:
1. Pretend they don’t exist. Seriously, imagine you have a smile like Julia Roberts and your day will be infinitely better. Don’t spend hours in front of the mirror grinning mechanically, analyzing every wire. If you think about your braces too much, you’ll drive yourself crazy and sink into an awful hole of self-pity that no one wants to be around.
2. Let other people mention them first. If you feel people looking at your mouth more than usual when you’re speaking, just ignore them. Having braces as an adult isn’t that big of a deal—can it even count as a #firstworldproblem?—so you have no obligation to “explain” your tin grin. Most people are polite anyway, and will ask about the cost and then you can joke about the ridiculous cost of health care and totally steer the conversation away from your mouth.
3. Always have your toothbrush handy. Add it to your mental checklist every time you leave your apartment: keys, credit card, phone, toothbrush. It’s that important. When you eat, food is bound to get trapped in your wires. It’s just a fact. (Sometimes even latte foam can hang around the brackets.) Always have a toothbrush so you can run to the bathroom and clean your teeth after meals. Even if food didn’t get caught in any visible places, it’s better to just get it all out as fast as possible.
4. Be the one to approach a romantic interest. It can be daunting to go up to someone and starting a casual conversation in general, let alone with braces on—but it’s totally worth it. If you don’t try to talk to people, and they aren’t coming to you, you will blame your braces for the lack of attention and sulk with your beer in the corner, which sucks. Make the effort to meet new people; you will at the very least make some new friends, and you’ll get a much-needed boost of self-assurance.
5. Remember that the people worth dating won’t think twice about your braces. Only shallow people will think you’re less attractive for it, which is honestly their loss.
6. Eat food carefully. It’s better to break apart small pieces of that pizza rather than to bite into something and break your braces. Moreover, if you munch down directly, bits of food are ten times more likely to get caught in the front.
7. Be confident. It may sound cliché but it’s the absolute truth. If you feel good about yourself and your smile, you will look good too. Never let braces determine how you feel, because if you feel insecure, you will look insecure, and insecurity gets you nowhere.
8. Take meticulous care of your teeth now. Wear your retainer after your orthodontist finishes tinkering with your pearly whites. Braces can cost a fortune—one time is enough.