Saturday, April 1, 2006

Brace Yourself

I could sense the hesitation on the other end of the phone line. I had just told my mother that her son needed braces on his teeth.

“You mean, Andrew?” she asked, making reference to our 22-year-old son. “No, mom…me” as I went on to explain that her grandson had braces when he was 10 and that it was indeed I, her 53-year-old son who was now staring at a two year sentence of wearing spacers, retainers, bands and ligatures.

“Aren’t you a little old to be getting braces?” was her next question. I told her I thought that was indeed an excellent question – so good, in fact, that it was my first question to the periodontist whose first query to me had been, “What do you think about dentures?”

And while this all started out as an innocent enough question, I quite honestly hadn’t given ANY thought to dentures or “false teeth” since having last seen one of my parents’ set of “choppers” sitting overnight in a glass of effervescing water many years ago.

As it turned out, I had been diagnosed with periodontal disease that would require surgery and would eventually lead back to the original question of whether or not an aging baby boomer needs the expense, pain and glamour of orthodontic braces. If this decision had been based on cosmetics, there would have been no discussion. Spending thousands of dollars to have my cavity-laden teeth straightened would have made no sense. Unfortunately, it was explained to me that having the surgery merely corrected the damage already done by the disease. Without the braces, the disease could once again spread. Some additional online searching showed that people with periodontal disease had a significantly higher incidence of heart disease, stroke and premature death.

Hey, Tom Cruise had braces.

I have this theory (or should I say phobia) about going to see medical experts. This warped sense of logic goes like this – if you don’t go looking for trouble, you won’t find it. Of course, this same manner of thinking got me in a load of trouble as a college student when I was equally convinced that if you didn’t record the amount of the check you just wrote in the back of your checkbook, you still had that money in the bank.

Fortunately, I’ve matured with age and now get my check-ups on a regular basis. And, if it’s any consolation to those left wondering about my college days, my wife now keeps track of the checkbook.

With the decision made to move forward with the braces, I set out to get a couple of opinions (read: quotes). One thing you quickly find out is that dental insurance doesn’t cover the cost of braces for anyone over the age of 24 – regardless of the reason. (Although I would think any insurance company would take into consideration the aforementioned “significantly higher incidence” part).

With all the excitement I could muster, I made my first visit to a local orthodontist. Seated next to a generous assortment of pre-teenagers, I anxiously awaited my name to be called. (Part of the encouragement I received was being told that “many” adults now wear braces. My periodontist proudly explained to me that he had just recently put them on his 64-year-old father. I imagine he probably got a discount.) I’m greeted by a very friendly staff member whose role is to give me a “tour” of the facilities.  Our first stop is a row of sinks behind a cubicle wall where I'm told, “You can brush your teeth after school…er, I guess work in your case.” Strike one.

I’m then shown The Honor Wall, where all the patients (read: pre-teenagers) have had their portraits put on display in recognition of completing their two years of dental rigor. There I’m told, “Upon completion, you’ll be given a coupon to have your portrait taken and you, too, can be displayed on The Honor Wall.” OK…Strike two. (I’m sorry, but I just can’t see my smiling mug serving as quiet inspiration to some similarly-affected adult who’s faced with the choice of spending two years with metal brackets in their mouth or paying for the last two years of their child’s education.)

Finally, I’m shown the various styles and “colors” of braces that I can have. When asked if I was a fan of The Ohio State Buckeyes, I was promised I could have them alternate in scarlet and grey. Strike three. (And while I am a fan, I refuse to take my allegiance that far.)

My second visit was to an orthodontist that had been referred to me by friends – who had braces as “adults.” That alone was a good enough recommendation for me.

So, in the next couple of days, I’ll be fitted with the top braces and eventually matched with a bottom set plus a retainer.

It’s a pain getting older. There’s simply no other way to put it. But as my mother is quick to point out, “It certainly beats the alternative.”

Which reminds me. I need to give my mother another call. As part of my annual physical I’ve been told I need to get some kind of test called a colonoscopy.

I wonder what that’s all about.