If you happen to be a dentist, you may want to quit reading and go find some teeth to drill. While this column is not meant to offend any member of the dental profession— particularly those who stick sharp objects in my gums twice a year—I occasionally wonder if the entire tooth-growing population really needs braces as much as you guys need yachts.
I’m certainly not implying that every mammal’s bite couldn’t be improved, but when your grandmother’s dentures need braces, I tend to worry. And at this point, if your kid isn’t a metal mouth by kindergarten, the next knock on your door might be social services.
My daughter’s orthodontic journey began in second grade, when our dentist gave me two options: Pay by credit card or check.
“Your child’s teeth have outgrown her mouth,” he said. “You can change her name to Beaver or give me $4,000.”
He had a point. My daughter was starting to look like the shark from Jaws, only she had more teeth.
Rather than remove some, the dentist decided to expand her palate with a Frankel device—a wire contraption that was several times the size of her head.
The device was the exact same one used to torture heretics in the Middle Ages, except heretics wore theirs outside their heads, which was probably much more comfortable.
I was wondering how they planned to cram this Frankel-stein thing into my daughter’s tiny mouth when the dental team moved in with crowbars.
Panic flooded her eyes, but before she could scream, the thing disappeared behind her lips, contorting her cheeks into bowling balls. Her teeth were now behind bars, completely imprisoned by wire. My beautiful, intelligent child was grunting foreign syllables and drooling on herself.
Then the dentist gave me the bad news: “She’ll have to take it out to eat.”
I politely asked if we could leave it in and just feed her intravenously, but he’d already left to count his money.
I wasn’t being cruel. I’d gladly stand up in any PTO meeting and admit to being the biological mother of a snaggle-toothed, slobbering heretic, but if any child ever needed braces permanently jackhammered into her head, it was my daughter.
That first night, the Frankel thing must have triggered her gag reflex, launching the oral invader airborne. Across her bedroom, our grateful dog was waiting to snap it up like a slimy, flying liver treat from heaven.
Daytime was worse. As predicted, she forgot the drool-coated contraption, leaving it on her school lunch tray for Mom to rescue. Luckily, no one was willing to touch it, even to throw it out.
After a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant, my daughter confessed that her Frankel device was on the lam again. We spent hours crawling around the restaurant floor and interrogating busboys in broken Spanish but got nowhere. The Frankel device had escaped again.
For the second time that month, I handed over my credit card to an exuberant orthodontist to make another frightening Frankel thing. That’s when he told me she’d still need $8,000 in braces later on, even if this one managed to stay in her mouth. Of course, it didn’t.
A zillion dollars later, my daughter does have one of the most beautiful smiles around. But the dog’s teeth are straighter.