My Adult Braces Experience – Week One Diary
Over the last few years, I’ve avoided going to the dentist. I’ve ignored reminder emails demanding that I book my next check-up, skipped past brilliant-white toothpaste ads, and turned my head away while walking past my dental practice every morning.
I’ve avoided it, not because I’m particularly scared of the dentist – I used to be, due to some traumatic childhood experiences, but I’ve pretty much worked through that by now – but because I knew my wisdom teeth had started growing, and once they did, there was no stopping them.
I became convinced that I would have to have all four wisdom teeth surgically removed, that there was no way they would ever fit the limited spaces reserved for them at the back of my jaw. I conjured up scenarios in my head of waking up from an anaesthetic-induced nap, only to discover that every single one of my teeth was missing. It was all perfectly unreasonable – people get their wisdom teeth taken out all the time, and somehow live to tell the tale. In my head though, it had built up to be something much bigger, something that made me keep my distance from the dental office for years.
When I finally did brave a visit, it was spurred on by a tax incentive that offered me a free check-up (I’m nothing if not thrifty). I discovered that while my teeth were in perfectly good shape and needed no fillings, and my wisdom teeth were in a surprisingly good place in their development, I did need another dental intervention that I had entirely supressed for years, even more than the wisdom teeth debacle: I needed braces.
Now, I’m not a complete novice at the orthodontist’s. When I was in my most vulnerable tween years, I diligently wore retainers to improve my overbite and overcrowding issues. For two years, every day when I came home from school, my retainers were waiting for me. I slept in them, I did homework in them, I made my family laugh at me by talking funny in them.
I always knew I would need braces eventually, that retainers were just a temporary measure and that my teeth would realign themselves in any way they pleased. In the last few years though, this process of readjustment fast-forwarded with the introduction of the new members of the clan: my wisdom teeth. Things were getting cramped and chaotic – what my teeth needed was structure, and a lot of it.
My first reaction was to consider Invisalign – it’s less visible and works much faster than traditional braces – but I was shot down immediately by the orthodontist. I wasn’t eligible for Invisalign – my open bite meant that traditional was the only way to go. The only way I could make it more discrete was to pay extra for ceramic clear braces, which I was happy to do on the top arch, but didn’t want to splurge out too much on the bottom, which is far less visible anyway.
So here I was, a freshly graduated eligible jobseeker, finally old enough to be considered a ‘real’ adult, faced with the appealing prospect of having big brackets and wires attached to the front of my teeth – both arches! – for a year and a half.
Needless to say, I freaked out. All sorts of fears popped up in my mind: I thought that I would look ugly, that braces would overshadow all of my other attributes, and that my boyfriend wouldn’t be attracted to me anymore. I decided to make an adult decision about it though, perhaps as a result of all the other scary adult responsibilities I was taking on at the time – sending out CVs, learning to drive, going to interviews. I took the plunge, and went to a full consultation. Once I paid my deposit (ouch, braces are expensive!) I knew there was no way back. I was on this path now, and it was time to make the most of it.
I decided to make a diary-style post detailing how I felt about my braces in the first week of having them. I’m sure someone out there is panicking right now, afraid of how they will be perceived as a professional with braces – if that’s you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. In my first week of having them, I went through a myriad of emotions, negative and positive, off-putting and uplifting alike. I’ve also discovered a whole bunch of resources about wearing braces, which I’ll share with you below to help you as you navigate this journey.
Hopefully this post will help you understand what to expect from your first week of braces, alleviate some of your fears, and help you to embrace them for the wonderful opportunity and privilege that they are.
“Have you looked up videos of how braces are put on?” my orthodontist asked after I made myself comfortable in the chair. I told him I hadn’t, for fear of scaring myself too much and chickening out of coming in at all.
“It’s really quite fascinating. And putting them on doesn’t hurt at all.”
I decided I would be the judge of that, but I was reassured.
For the next two hours, I sat back in my UV filter goggles, trying not to make too much eye contact with the orthodontist or his assistant, a young guy, probably fresh out of dentistry school or on a placement, who had never done this before. This was not reassuring.
Before I came in for my appointment, I was worried about my jaw – I grind my teeth in my sleep or when I’m nervous, and have developed a mild TMJ disorder that presents itself sometimes as a somewhat frightening clicking. Thankfully my orthodontist reassured me this wouldn’t be a problem: they would be using retractors throughout to keep my mouth open, meanwhile making me look absolutely ridiculous. As he put the retractor in, I was reminded of an old Miranda Sings video I watched years earlier, an image that wouldn’t leave my head as my teeth were buffed and prepped.
They did my front teeth first, settling into a comfortable routine: first the glue was applied, a bracket was put on, carefully arranged, and measured into the perfect position. Then, the assistant would jump in with a UV lamp to set it in its place. If I crossed my eyes enough, I could see a reflection of my teeth in the bright orange disk, gaining one ceramic or metal bracket at a time. If I knew before that this was irreversible, this just affirmed it further. I was really going through with this.
Towards the end of the front section, the retractor-mouthguard situation started to get really painful. Every time the orthodontist would bend to press a bracket into position, the retractor cut into my gums, a sensation that is easily ignored the first few times, but that becomes almost unbearable after a while. I was relieved when the doctor called a break after the front teeth were done, but the five minutes spent discussing my treatment plan and the terrible weather we’re having this summer did little to prepare me for the pain that was coming.
The back section of my teeth was done much the same as the front – the only difference being the excruciating pain of my gums as the retractor dug in, promising certain canker sores. I willed to think of the procedure as a meditation, trying to tune out the pain and focus on other things – my breath, the sounds around me – but found the sounds in the dental office to be a little less than relaxing.
With three molars to go, I felt tears forming in my eyes, and mentally told myself off, determined not to cry in the dentist’s chair for the first time since I was six years old. Besides, I reminded myself, pain only exists in the moment – after it passes, it’s gone from memory, untraceable except for its physical evidence. This would pass quickly.
I can’t describe the relief I felt as the last molar was set with the UV lamp. I barely noticed the wire being threaded through and fastened with bands, I was so focused on the moment the mouthguard situation would be taken away. Finally, the pain ended.
“How was it?” the receptionist asked as I handed over my debit card to pay the shockingly steep remaining balance on the day’s visit.
“Well, I have braces now,” I replied, and reality set in. I had braces now. I would have braces for about a year and a half, maybe a little less, maybe a little more. Every day, when I looked in the mirror, I would see these braces.
I walked home clutching a tiny box of dental wax like a lifeline. Nothing hurt now, but I knew pain would come soon – I remembered enough from my retainer days to know that much.
The first time I saw myself in the mirror, I burst into tears. My mum and sister formed a protective layer around me, wrapping me up in a hug. But they didn’t know how this felt – neither of them could know exactly how this felt.
I have suffered from low self esteem before – I’ve been wearing glasses for most of my life, I had a long streak of teenage acne, and I’ve always been just a little bit worried about my weight. None of this is special, and none of this is news – we all have our ups and downs, we all have days when we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see.
The day I got my braces, they were all I could see in the mirror, even with my mouth shut tight.
I wanted them gone, and I wondered if I could get them taken off if I wanted, even without completing the treatment. Surely they’d have to respect my decision, right? I’d have stupidly wasted a ton of money, but at least I’d know that I could make that decision for myself, that I wasn’t trapped.
I had to find a way to see braces for what they really were – a brilliant opportunity to achieve a long-term goal, to eventually build my confidence and take care of my health. I had invested into myself, had done something thousands of people would love to have the resources to do – and in that way, I wasn’t trapped at all. I was lucky.
Yeah, but the low self-esteem was still there.
One thing that helped was my daily video chat with my boyfriend, Aidan. As I answered the call, I was determined to keep my mouth closed for as long as possible. The minute I saw him, though, I couldn’t help but smile. It was silly and sappy, but every time I tried to stop smiling, I failed miserably, and ended up smiling more.
What was more: he was smiling too – he wasn’t thinking less of me because I had braces, and wasn’t repulsed by them. He still saw me exactly the same way he had every single day before this one.
This was never really about looks at all – our relationship is built on much stronger foundations than that, and it always has been. We are a team, together through the good and the bad. We share goals, plans and ideas, and validate each other every single day, raise each other up, make each other feel supported.
As we talked, my eyes kept drifting to my face in the corner of the screen, trying to get used to the way it looked now. I still didn’t like the way it looked, but one weight had been lifted.
I had gained a hugely valuable external source of self-esteem.
Now, it was time to wait for internal self-esteem to catch up.
Feeling the pain and pressure of the braces creeping in at last, I took a painkiller, went to bed, and waited for it to kick in. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad after all.
First Time Outside
I woke up two hours before my alarm to excruciating pain. I couldn’t touch my front teeth together without triggering a deep pain, but a small part of me didn’t mind it: it meant that the braces had already started working their magic.
It was time to address the other source of discomfort I was feeling: hunger. I had done a bunch of Pinterest searches about what to eat with braces, but I was still hesitant to try anything in case it made things worse.
Breakfast was easy: I’m a huge fan of porridge, and the consistency lends itself perfectly to braces. Chia seeds provided a little protein, and bananas were soft enough to add as a topping. I chased it all down with water and a Nurofen, knowing this would be a long day.
The most important thing was to distract myself with my regular routine. I wanted to make sure that I still got things done, that I could be productive. With my makeup done and my hair down, I instantly felt a little better about my appearance than I had the day before, but I still felt like my teeth took up half of my face and distracted from everything else.
I decided not to dwell on it, and jumped on a bus to town. I settled down to write in a coffee shop as usual, though I noticed that I couldn’t look the barista in the eye as I ordered. I hoped she wouldn’t see the difference, but knew by the tilt of her head that she did.
Little victories though: I had spoken to someone with my braces on, and it didn’t go terribly! I didn’t have a lisp, I didn’t spit as I talked. I had a normal interaction, and everything was fine!
Aidan met me after he finished work, and saw the braces in person for the first time – not captured in a small screen, but right there.
“They look good!” he assured me, and I believed him. Things were fine.
I was in pain though. The wires and brackets had started scratching my gums, and my lips were getting caught on the hooks. Not exactly pleasant, or sexy. The dental wax I got from my dentist came to my rescue, and I instantly knew I needed to buy more – I wouldn’t want to be caught out without it.
Wax applied to all guilty wires, I went home with Aidan to cook up some soup. Soup and Indian food – that was the day’s menu. I knew I could eat rice with braces, but unfortunately I forgot that curry stains the bands on braces like nothing else. Soon, I was sporting orange teeth. And to add to it all, we accidentally got sent the ‘hot’ version of Paneer Masala instead of medium. My orange mouth might as well have been in flames.
Day three of braces was not my proudest or most positive day. In fact, I may have never complained or whined more on any given day in my life. The pain from the multiple cuts in my mouth, the constant trips to the bathroom to brush my teeth, the endless applications of dental wax – I hated it all, and I hated the world for making me go through it, even though I knew I had wanted this.
Aidan was endlessly supportive, reacting stoically to my endless complaining. He was the image of patience: he bought me a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough, ordered my iced coffee so I wouldn’t have to talk to the barista, agreed to eat a dinner composed almost exclusively of mashed potatoes, and paused our Friends marathon every time I went to inspect a sharp wire or treat my sore gums. I needed to be babied for a day, and he stepped up for the challenge. We spent the day in pleasant distraction: reading, walking through his quiet neighbourhood, cooking together.
“I don’t want you to become a hermit,” he told me when we left the coffee shop. “I hope that doesn’t come across wrong, but I hope you don’t let braces stand in your way of being social.”
He was right. I couldn’t let my insecurities stand in my way. A year and a half is a long time, and I don’t have time to waste. I’m allowing myself an adjustment period – but once it’s up, life will be back to business as usual.
I woke up with no pain. It was a pleasant surprise, probably due to the vast amount of wax I had carefully applied to every single sharp point the night before.
On a high from my pain-free Sunday lie-in, I decided to be adventurous. If I was going to live my life just as I had before braces, it was necessary that I have brunch. Who would I be if I couldn’t eat poached eggs on avocado toast and pancakes?
I tried both. Knowing that my teeth still weren’t up to the challenge of proper bread, I swapped it out for a lightly toasted brioche bun. Topped with a poached egg and some fresh mozzarella, this was the perfect breakfast to convince me that great brunches were still in my future. Next on the agenda: pancakes, topped with maple syrup and bananas. Perfectly edible for my invalid teeth.
Things were finally moving along. With every day, I could feel my mouth adjusting, getting tougher, adapting to its new scary circumstances. I’m amazed at how our bodies can do that – overcome challenges so naturally, heal us while we sleep, grow and regenerate as needed. Even though braces are an invasion, changing the natural pattern of movement and altering the structure practically irreversibly, my body still adapts to them and works around them.
Aesthetic issues, like how my smile is not as bright as it used to be, pale in comparison with the power of my body, and its commitment to keeping me alive, safe, comfortable in my skin. If my body can adapt to braces, then I can too.
Monday came, and it was truly time to return to normal life. I wanted to go to the gym – surely wearing braces wouldn’t interfere with that?
The gym was pretty quiet, as it usually is on a Monday morning when almost everyone is at work. Despite this, I found myself keeping my mouth shut, not wanting anyone to see my braces. The problem with this? I found it difficult to breathe properly throughout my workout, and had a less-than-great session. No personal best for me.
This would be something for me to work on. Why was I so afraid for people to see my braces? They were nothing to be ashamed of. Braces wouldn’t stop me from achieving my goals and being the best me I could be every day. What would stop me from doing what I loved was this destructive attitude, this shame that I was feeling. It needed to be kicked aside. Aidan’s “don’t become a hermit” comment rang through my mind, and I knew that what I needed was to go out into the world.
I needed a confidence boost. Some self-care was in order – a long shower, blow-drying my hair, wearing a nice outfit, painting my nails, and doing a short but effective meditation before leaving the house seemed to do the trick. Soon, I was feeling myself again, and I ordered my coffee feeling a million times better than I did a few days earlier.
Exercise, taking care of myself, wearing an outfit that I love, doing some productive work, and not being afraid to go out and see people – all of these things help me feel better in my own skin, braces or no braces. Self-care is the key to confidence.
On the sixth day, I was surprised to notice that my mouth already felt better positioned. I didn’t feel like my braces were too big for my mouth anymore – everything was adjusting.
I followed my productive self-care regimen again, making sure that I was taking time to feel good inside and out before I left home to work away in town again.
I was preparing for an interview for a great internship opportunity at a publishing house, and I wanted to make sure that I had answers ready for all possible questions. I couldn’t help but worry about how I would be perceived with my braces though, and the thought wouldn’t leave my mind no matter how much I tried to push it away. I told myself that I was worth a lot more than my physical appearance, that I had other ways of making a great first impression, and that my thoughts, skills, and experience were what really mattered in the evaluation process.
Still, I kept thinking that the only thing they would remember was that I had braces.
This is entirely unreasonable of course, but this kind of thinking still happens and needs to be recognised.
Recognising negative thought patterns is the first step to stopping them in their tracks, catching them before they can do damage, and working to overcome them. This is why I want to record all of those negative self-thoughts – as a way of working toward better self-esteem, better self-confidence. I know that I deserve better than the belittling critical voice in my head. I know that I need to know my value, to see myself as bigger than my insecurities. I am working towards that every single day. Braces are a setback to my self-esteem, but I am choosing to see them as a challenge that I need to overcome. I know I will overcome it.
On an entirely different note, on day six I made the mistake of eating some instant ramen, while in desperate need for something easy and quick to snack on. It was cheese flavoured, and absolutely delicious.
It also stained the bands on my braces highlighter yellow.
No matter how much I scrubbed at them, the colour wasn’t going away. Yellow is possibly the worst colour of braces bands that you can choose, and here I was, facing the prospect of having yellow braces for four more weeks. Maybe the colour will fade with time – fingers crossed.
I also noticed that after a day of chewing and talking (especially with the interview prep forcing me to rehearse my answers out loud to myself), my mouth swelled up as if I had an allergic reaction. It wasn’t sore – just incredibly uncomfortable. All I could do was put some frozen peas on it, and eat some ice cream.
Braces, I’ve found, are an excellent excuse to eat ice cream every single day. It’s all in the little wins.
The morning of the big interview came, and I decked myself out in my freshly pressed trousers and shirt. My confidence was still a bit rocky – I was sure the interviewer would judge my braces, and after the swelling fiasco the night before, I was afraid I’d start lisping or slurring my words, unable to talk properly.
It went well though! I was prepared, I had the necessary experience. I was a lot more nervous than usual, but I tried my best to stay calm. The interviewers were perfectly lovely, and if they were thinking anything about my braces, they sure didn’t let on.
Of course they didn’t! In an office workspace, physical appearance doesn’t matter – it’s all about the right attitude, skills, and professionalism. Whatever my fears had been the day before, I knew that they were irrational. Even if I didn’t get the role, I knew that this interview was a learning experience – a rehearsal of sorts, a way to practice interacting professionally. I think I passed!
In the evening, while out celebrating Aidan’s exam results, I had my first truly challenging food experience: my first time at a restaurant with braces on. I already knew I could eat fries – something I had prioritised testing very early on with some McDonald’s French fries – but the challenge was in the burger.
I thanked myself internally for being a vegetarian, because veggie patties tend to be a lot softer, and more prone to falling apart. My bean cheese burger was amazing, and though I had to dutifully deconstruct it into tiny bites, it was still a great accomplishment.
This marked one week of life with braces, and things were definitely back on track. I was sure that daily challenges would follow, and every day would bring a new experiment in eating or talking or being confident in my appearance, but I knew I was making progress.
And daily progress predicts a pretty positive pattern.
I’m pretty positive now that the next year and a half will be okay after all.
What I learned in my first week of wearing braces
I hope this week one diary illustrated some of the challenges of wearing braces as an adult, and also highlighted some of the ways to overcome these challenges. I tried to be as honest as possible about my experience, so that it can hopefully help someone out there who’s going through the same thing.
If you’re about to get braces, or you’ve always thought about it and been hesitant, I’ll be honest: it’s a little tough at the beginning. But the thing is, most things are. It’s the long term benefit that counts the most, and if having straight and even teeth is important to you in the long run, then there is nothing to be afraid of. You will adjust, your body will adjust, and the people around you will support you. After the first week, it gets so much easier. And remember – it’s not forever. It’s a temporary obstacle that comes with huge benefits later. You might just find yourself a stronger and more confident person at the end of the journey.
And a last note about confidence: physical appearance is external. You can get external sources of confidence, like I did a bunch of times throughout my first week from people and experiences around me. But the biggest progress with the way I saw myself in the mirror started happening when my confidence came from within, when I made it a priority to take care of myself, mind and body, and see myself as more than just my physical appearance. Even if braces are not in the picture for you at all, you can benefit from this key takeaway.
We are all on a journey of learning to love ourselves, take better care of ourselves, and feel comfortable in the skin we’re in. So be kind to yourself, listen to your body, and commit to providing the best possible conditions for you to heal and grow: these are the best ways to build internal self-confidence. Once you have it, it will guide you through the toughest of challenges.
Please let me know if you’re interested in more adult braces content – perhaps something with a different format, more practical and informative next time. And if you have any questions, do reach out – I’d love to be of help!
And while you’re here, feel free to check out some of my most recent blog posts.
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