A twenty-something's journey with braces

Monday, November 26, 2007

Where have you been all my life? The Oral-B Vitality

Not much going on in my life tooth-wise, other than me enjoying a guilt-free, crunchy, chewy Thanksgiving weekend. I figure by next Thanksgiving I'll be used to the braces enough to get away with most stuff, but I didn't want to be newly-braced and sore for this holiday season. Hence (among other reasons) the wait until January.

In general braces news, I'm giving more thought to asking for a bonded lower retainer at the end of it all, since I just found out my brother and his girlfriend, and presumably my other brother, all have them. Also a friend at church. Makes the most sense, as my bottom teeth are the big issue. But that decision is a long way off.

Today's post is mainly to rave about the new love in my (dental) life: the Oral-B Vitality electric toothbrush.

I vaguely remember a dentist at one point recommending I use an electric toothbrush. My teeth are hard to clean manually, after all. But at the time my mental concept was of the old-style one we had when I was a kid. Basically a toothbrush head that sort-of vibrated. I also thought they meant the uber-expensive models. So I stuck to my regular toothbrush.

Little did I know that I could get a very functional model for only $18, and what a difference it would make!

After recommendations on the ArchWired forum, I decided to go for it and add an electric brush to my dental gadget collection. I wanted to get started now, so that my teeth would be as clean as possible when the braces go on. I researched a few brands, settled on the Oral-B Triumph 9400, asked if the expensive models were worth it, and was advised to get the Vitality to try out. Then if I liked it enough to upgrade, I could keep the Vitality as my backup/travel.

What the heck? I thought. It was only $18. I went for the basic "Precision Clean" model (they also offer "Dual Action" and "Sonic"). And I mean basic. One speed, on or off, plain brush head, and a simple timer mechanism (see below).

This model (also the Dual Action) IS however compatible with all the specialty heads that come with the top-shelf models, so if I do get a fancier one I can in fact switch out the heads and use the Vitality as a backup. Or if not, I can still use the fancy heads on my cheapo model. *w*

It's rechargeable (I gather previous versions were battery-powered) and stores on its unobtrusive charging base so it's always at full power.

An automatic two-minute timer indicates optimum brushing time by "stuttering" (the first time you think the brush is dying). It is possible to keep brushing, and after another two minutes it will "stutter" again. I know this because I'm averaging about 3-4 minutes per brushing right now, due to taking special care to clean around all my crooked teeth. I hope I'm not doing damage by brushing longer, but really I'm only spending a few seconds on each tooth.

The results? Wow.

After the very first time I used it, my teeth felt cleaner than they had in ages. By the second use, I could not contemplate going back to a manual brush. There's just no comparison in the level of clean. It's like when I brush manually, my mouth might taste fresher, but my teeth don't feel any different. With the Vitality, I can tell they're clean. And already I'm noticing some of the stains (caused by my mouthwash? jury's still out...) between my more crooked teeth lightening. I made DH try the brush out, and now he's thinking about getting his own.

I think I'll ask Santa for a Triumph, but if I don't get one I think the Vitality is certainly a welcome step up from my old routine. $18 well spent!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Before photos

Below is a pic of the pics (I know, right?) my ortho took at my consult. I don't have lip spreaders at home, and it shows all the relevant angles, so I just thought I'd post that up:

You can see how my top arch (upper left in photo) is constricted into a "house" or "tent" shape. My canines came in ABOVE my baby canines, so they're high in my gums and stick out a bit.

My lower arch (upper right) is really constricted and bows in, making all four of my lower incisors plus my lower canines jumbled and twisted. My canines are rotated about 90 degrees. Here's a pic I took that shows the lower teeth better from the front:

The bottom consult pics show my deep overbite (90%) and I think I have maybe a 4-5 mm overjet. Also you can see some of my molars don't match up.

I have some gum recession, especially on the lower teeth, that my ortho wants to watch carefully. I think that's partly genetic (I had a graft done in front of my lower incisors for the same issue when I was in 6th grade) and partly a result of overbrushing on my part, trying to compensate for my crowded teeth by brushing really, really thoroughly.

My appointments are made as of yesterday: x-rays and impressions on January 3rd, and the braces themselves (!) two weeks later on the 17th. I have exactly 8 weeks from (US) Thanksgiving to enjoy my favorite brace-taboo foods.

The countdown begins...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Taking the plunge

Well, the decision is about 90-95% made. I am almost certainly getting braces at the first of next year. (To the tune of a cool $5300...ouch!)

You may recall my post on the subject earlier, after I went for my initial consult. Then I knew I had time to think about it, because it would be months until I could turn in my insurance-and-related paperwork for next year. Well, that time is upon me, and so is the final decision. Once that paperwork's submitted, I can either get the braces or I'll have to find something else medical to spend the $5300 on, because I can't stop it coming out of my paycheck, and I have to submit bills/statements for medical services to get reimbursed for it.

I am both dismayed and glad I waited this long for braces. Dismayed, because if you've seen my teeth up close, you know they're pretty bad. (Oh, healthy and clean, just really, really crowded, especially on the bottom.) I'm wishing I'd stuck to the treatment recommended when I was much younger, and gotten braces when I should have, because by now I'd have had nice, straight teeth for a while.

OTOH I'm actually glad because by waiting, I have reached the point where there is technology to make the whole process much faster/smoother/less painful. I also avoided having braces in band (hit by a flagpole would not have been fun, and playing an oboe with that itty-bitty embouchure...), for prom, college, and my wedding.

Honestly, if I'd gotten braces in middle or high school, it would probably have taken 2-3 years and they would have removed teeth (possibly as many as 4). I also may or may not have had to use a palatal expander, since my arches are so narrow and constricted.

Now, using the Damon system, my orthodontist (one of only 2 in the area to use it) is pretty confident that treatment will only require 18-20 months. I will most likely not have to have any extractions. And no expanders, spacers, or - perish the thought - surgery. I'll only have to go in every 8-10 weeks for adjustments/wire changes. He was actually pretty excited to see me, as the system is fairly new and he said I was a "prime candidate." I don't get the sense that I'm being manipulated, only that he expects really good results and is excited about them since they're new to him, too. (He's been fully trained, just hasn't had many cases yet.)

Also, with this really awesome software/service called OrthoCAD (my ortho is the only office in the area to use it), the treatment planning and bracket placement will be uber-precise and quick. Basically, they'll scan the impressions of my teeth into the computer, and the program will calculate where to put the brackets for most effective treatment and even show the projected end result. Then the company will make molds of my teeth, place the brackets with computer alignment, and mount them in plastic trays and ship them back to my ortho. I go into the office, they put the trays on my teeth, flash the bonding light to glue the brackets on, then warm up and peel off the trays. Viola! All the brackets are in place, and they have only to insert the wire.

I actually didn't get any estimates from other orthodontists because after doing my own research I was so impressed with the combination of Damon system and OrthoCAD, I didn't feel the need. Their office (Bluegrass Orthodontics - on the random chance that a reader goes there tell them I referred you, please!) is also literally down the hall from my dentist, maybe 20 feet, so having the wires out for cleanings and whatnot will be super easy.

The downsides: I will probably have to wear rubber bands (who in braces doesn't, though, really?) - hopefully only at the very end of treatment - and I will most likely have to have "ortho-" or "bite buttons" on for the first few months of treatment. That's because I have a really deep bite, almost completely covering my bottom teeth, and my top teeth would hit the lower brackets. A real bummer, because my teeth won't meet completely for a while, and I'll be restricted to mushy foods. Ah, well. I've been wanting to lose weight, anyway.

Side benefit of waiting till the new year: I can binge during the holidays and enjoy them, at least. Expect to see me going for a lot of my favorite and soon-to-be-verboten foods (I think sushi qualifies *sigh*) over the next couple months. I'll likely go for impressions mid-December and have the brackets placed first of January.

The actual brackets will be a combination of the solid-metal Damon 3MX brackets (all lower and side-upper teeth) and the mostly clear ceramic Damon 3's on my upper front 6 teeth (the most visible). The advantage: even the solid-metal brackets are smaller and less-visible than traditional brackets, and no bands/ligatures to stain and collect food particles/plaque/bacteria. They're supposed to be easier in general to keep clean.

To that end, I've bought my first piece of equipment to aid with braces-wearing: the Waterpik Ultra dental water jet. In my braces research, I discovered that they were often recommended to be as-if-not-more-so effective as flossing. And oh, so much less hassle. So I asked my ortho and they cautiously said it would be good to have ("we'd rather you floss, but if you are guaranteed to use this every day and floss when you can...yeah"). I mentioned it offhand to DH, who was surprisingly enthusiastic. They had them at Wal-mart last night. I was just pricing, but he wanted to get it, and then on his own impetus set it up that very night. What can I say? He's a guy, and this qualifies as "gadget." But hey, we'll both use it, and it should improve our overall dental health.

Now, after this long-winded post, I probably won't say much more until I get go in for impressions in a month or so.


Re-posted from my personal blog. Original entry 8/30/07:

I went for a consult at the orthodontist's today. This after 14 years of avoiding braces, but also of struggling to keep stuff out from between my teeth, and feeling slightly embarassed of every picture in which I am smiling broadly.

The orthodontist himself, Dr. Ferguson, and Jeannine my "treatment coordinator" were both extremely nice. I really felt comfortable with them.

And Dr. Ferguson said I was a "perfect" candidate for the new Damon system which is all that I was hoping for in braces (with the exception of invisibility, but let's be realistic): less pain, faster treatment, fewer visits, less obtrusive brackets, etc. Oh - and I can still chew gum, if I'm careful. I was on board.

They told me to expect 18-20 months of treatment, a retainer for a year after that, and then wearing the retainer one night a week for the rest of my life. I can handle that.

But the price tag - ouch! $5300...and all out of pocket. At least they have a payment plan.

I'm still thinking about the whole deal. At this point, I'm leaning towards doing it. But not starting until January, when I can set up a payment deduction from my Health Savings Account at work. I'd start sooner, but on top of our other expenses, and with Christmas coming up...

God help me, I'm a little excited at the prospect. Talk to me after I've had them a month or so, though.