Thursday, October 25, 2012

Braces, Braces, Everyone?

My oldest son got his braces off this month. This would be a financial coup, except for the fact that his little sister got hers on last month. Alas, are we destined to give all our savings to the orthodontist? Which begs the question, what about Kid #3? Today in my inbox I discovered a friendly reminder e-mail that he is due for an evaluation. Am I a bad parent if I ignore that e-mail?  

Son #3’s teeth are straight and even, with a few gaps (room to grow). He has a much bigger mouth than his siblings (not just physically). Seems to me if you’re bent on spending money you could find a reason to put braces on every kid alive. Probably most adults too. At one point does it become a luxury? These are thousands of dollars that could be spent on college education or a trip abroad. How critical are straight teeth? 

Son #1 has retainers now. Well, sometimes he does. Already I find them abandoned next to his breakfast dishes after he’s already on his way to school. He’s begun this incredibly annoying habit of removing his bottom retain with his tongue and then playing with it in his mouth like a gobstopper. When he does these things I emit a shriek characteristic of a cartoon mom and begin making threats like, “You’re going to pay for the next set of braces!” To which he replies, “I never asked for braces.” Which is a good point. He didn’t. 

In fact, his teeth weren’t so bad to begin with. Just a slight misalignment, nothing anyone would really point out. But he is our first born and you know how that works. Nothing is too good. How could we not want him to have perfect teeth? So on went the braces.  

The girl-child has had teeth issues from the get-go. Initially she didn’t get her first tooth until eleven months, prompting us to worry that she didn’t have any. When they did come in, it was in layers. Too many teeth for too small a space. It didn’t help that she held on to her baby teeth way past their expiration dates, necessitating six of them to be removed by the oral surgeon. She had an expander at age 8, a “Lip Bumper” at 9, and then the series of teeth extractions culminating in this past summer’s extraction of four permanent teeth. And still there is a stray tooth hanging around above her front teeth poking out of her gums looking for a place to land. Braces were never a question with this child. 

And now we come to child #3 and I ask you, are we obligated to put braces on this one? I keep looking at that e-mail in my inbox. It is my habit to leave messages in the inbox until I deal with them. I like a tidy inbox, so most don’t hang around long. I have a feeling this one might still be here by next summer.  

My concern isn’t just about the expense, well, okay, it’s mostly about the expense. But it’s also about the point. I had braces when I was a teenager. I mostly followed the directions. Somewhere in my college years I lost my retainers and we never spoke of it again. And now my bottom teeth are crooked as a witch’s nose. It’s as if there were never braces to begin with. 

My orthodontist didn’t take the lovely before and after pictures that we received in the mail this week substantiating the initial reason for the braces and the unarguable results. I don’t really know how crooked my teeth were before braces. Everyone I knew had braces, both my brothers, most of my friends. It’s what you did to make middle school even more awkward. And if you were really lucky, you got to sport your tinsel mouth halfway through high school.  

So, for the time being, I’m consciously ignoring the reminder e-mail and having an internal debate. My husband, having been the third child, always says, “the last one thrives on neglect.” It’s tough to be the third in some ways, but in other ways it’s quite the boon. My youngest stays up later, watches more TV, has more computer time, and gets way more privileges than his siblings did when they were his age. On the flip side, there is less video footage, fewer mementos of his childhood saved, and he’s known who Santa really is since he was eight. Even the tooth fairy quit early for him.  

In the end, I will probably roll the dice and take him for the appointment. I don’t want to worry that someday when his teeth are pointing in all directions but down, he asks “How come you never got me braces?” But maybe I’ll be able to say, “We took you to Europe instead.”

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