in Daily Life, Health

Brace Face

For years, I’ve wanted to get braces. But for years, I’ve been reluctant to do so.

In 2009, as I started doing more radio and television appearances for Get Rich Slowly, I began to grow self-conscious about my teeth. Actually, I’d been self-conscious about them for a while. Each of us has some part of body that bothers us (and sometimes more than one part); in my case, it was my teeth. (And my sensitive skin. I hate my sensitive skin.)

I asked my dentist about the possibility of getting braces. She agreed it’d be a good idea. We even went so far as to have impressions made for the orthodontist. But I never followed through. I decided I was just being vain.

Over the past three or four years, though, my teeth have continued to bother me. I’ve gone so far as to adopt a dorky toothless grin, especially for photos. (Actually, many people have noted that I don’t smile in photos. That’s for a couple of reasons, one of which is that I’m self-conscious about my teeth.)

My dorky “smile without smiling” smile.

Last spring, I started dating a dental hygienist. She never said anything about my teeth, though, until last fall. She was cleaning my teeth when she pointed out that an orthodontist could fix my crossbite. The dentist she worked for agreed, and he urged me to see a local specialist. So I did.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been consulting with the orthodontist, talking with Kim, and weighing the decision. It’s true that my bite is messed up and that my teeth are mis-aligned, but the orthodontist says I’m not causing any damage. I could go on indefinitely like this if my teeth don’t move anymore. If.

During the decision-making process, I talked with my friend Matt. He recently got braces too, and he’s nearly as old as I am. It was this conversation more than anything else that made me comfortable committing to the process.

This is the bottom line: My teeth affect my confidence. Perhaps that’s sad, but it’s true. I want to be able to smile without inhibition. I want to feel good when meeting new people or appearing on television. I want my teeth to be as normal as possible.

So, on Tuesday I got braces.

photo (9)
Newly installed braces on a 43-year-old man.

The orthodontist says I’ll have the braces for at least two years. I’m okay with that. So far, I haven’t had any pain. The real challenge has been learning to eat again. Eating with braces is very different than normal eating. Usually when we eat, we don’t even think about it. With the braces — at least for the first two days — I think about every bite. I’m conscious of where I’m chewing and how. And once I’m done eating? Hoo-boy! It’s quite a production to brush and rinse to make sure my mouth is clean.

And as always happens, now that I’m a 43-year-old man, lots of people are telling me their stories about having braces as an adult. Who knew it was so common?

Now if only I could fix this doggone sensitive skin. Shaving is hell!

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  1. One thing I like about my braces is that they’re clear. I just looked at the photo again and realized it’s actually kind of tough to even see the braces. That’s cool!

  2. Regarding sensitive skin, have you tried Kiehl’s shaving lotion? I’ve converted several boyfriends to it. Seems pricey, but you use very little of it so it lasts a long while. If you have a Kiehl’s counter near you, they hand out free samples like gangbusters.

  3. Oh boy, is it an experience having braces as an adult! I’m 45 and got braces for the first time last March. My dentist has been telling me for years that it’s something I should do because my teeth were so crowded on the bottom that it was very hard to clean them.

    Yes, eating becomes a whole new “adventure.” I popped a wire within days of getting my braces because I was chewing something that was apparently too hard and chewy. I’ve also had brackets pop off on my rear molars just from eating things like a baked potato. (Really!?!) Remember that your bite is being changed so you’ll find chewing a bit more challenging simply for that reason.

    I haven’t had much pain after getting new wires or adjustments as I was warned, other than having the wires and brackets dig into my cheeks. Dental wax is your friend!

    My orthodontist told me it would take 18 months to complete treatment, so I’m about halfway there. I’ve already planned what I want to eat immediately after getting the braces off: whole almonds and crusty bread or crackers. Oh, how I miss nuts!

    One more suggestion: if you get as fed up with floss-threaders as me, try the GUM soft picks instead. My dental hygienist gave me some to try and they are awesome!

  4. Hey JD,

    I know you haven’t solicited advice for your sensitive skin…and I know that you gave basically zero details on the issue…but I can’t help myself. You know when you find something that is SO AWESOME and you just want to tell everyone so that they can share in the benefit? For me, that was the oil cleansing method – ever heard of it?

    Basically, I wash my face with a mixture of oils instead of using soap. I’ve been doing it for a year and it’s been great for my sensitive skin – it’s awesome for avoiding breakouts, balancing out oiliness and dryness, and for keeping my sensitive skin feeling good. It’s also super thrifty since you can ditch many other face products such as moisturizer. Now if I can just find a similar method that works for the rest of my body! My dry winter skin is making me nuts.

    Anyway, if you’re interested in giving it a shot I think this article from Crunchy Betty is a a wonderful place to start:

    • Interesting. I’ll have to take a look at this.

      Here’s the deal with my skin: It gets angry when I shave. That’s why I have a moustache and goatee. It’s why sometimes I go to full beard. My skin gets very irritated from the razor.

      My skin has other issues too. It’s often very oily, which can lead to breakouts even at my age. But right now, it’s dry as can be.

      It feels crazy talking about this stuff. I’ve basically just ignored it for my entire life, but I’m finally at a point where I realize I can do something about it, so I am. For instance, I just bought moisturizer yesterday for the first time in my life. Will it help? I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s going to hurt…

      • The moisturizer will probably help a lot. Put it on every time you shower or wash your face, while your skin is still a little damp. Most people don’t realize that part of the purpose of moisturizer is to lock in moisture, not just add it – so having damp skin first will help a ton. When your skin is too dry, the body overreacts with oil production. Sensitive skin actually reacts to the oil, so it becomes a revolving cycle.

        Looking closely at your picture, it appears some red flakiness near your eyebrows which is common for seborrheic dermatitis. General sensitivity, esp. to shaving is often another symptom. Google it and see if it might sound familiar and if so a dermatologist can help a ton. Often a light steroid (cortisone) cream, or ketaconazole (anti-fungal) helps. Take control and reap the benefits ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Oh man, I did four years in braces as a teen (rubber bands, nighttime headgear, the works). It’s so funny because not only can I not see the braces in your picture, I don’t know what the “bad teeth” thing is you’re talking about. But, you’re right, it’s affecting you and you can do something about it: awesome!

    I know where you’re coming from: I have a front tooth that’s slightly behind the other – it slipped back over time, I assume because I had a root canal in it 18 years ago so its anchoring is weak. I don’t think it’s SO noticeable in person but in pics it’s the very first thing I focus on (it looks shadowed, and makes the tooth beside it look snaggly…at least to my eye). Right now isn’t the time for me to pay to fix it but one of these days I hope to do so. Make sure you get a better Before picture than the one above!

  6. JD. No need to agonize over the decision. Your teeth weren’t straight and you did something about it. You were overweight and you did something about it. You had control over your weight and took action by working out and changing your eating habits/diet. You couldn’t control your teeth and had to have a professional take care of it. If you got braces and didn’t pay your mortgage or rent – that would be a bad decision.

    I got braces “late” – at 19. Paid for them myself and have had no regrets.

  7. Did you weigh getting veneers over braces? My understanding is the cost is the same but the process takes a week instead of two years. Of course, I don’t know what the long-term effects of veneers might be…

  8. Congrats on taking one more step of self improvement. Teeth never stop moving. I had straight teeth after years of braces and other headgears as a kid. Then the two front teeth came back very close, one threatening to overlap the other one.
    I wear a night guard now to make sure they don’t move anymore, maybe something you will need once the braces are off. Transparent braces are barely noticeable, and honestly they are a positive sign that you take care of yourself.

  9. I will be 45 in March. I completed my treatment and my braces came off in December 2012, the week before I graduated with my doctorate degree. I can’t stop smiling. My confidence has improved. It’s a great investment in yourself. I love your site.

  10. You can’t even see them–how cool! Good for you for recognizing that your teeth were affecting your self-confidence and that they’re worth the expense and possible discomfort.

    I began my orthodontic odyssey in 3rd grade (’62 or ’63) because my parents realized that kids were teasing me about my buck teeth–my lips didn’t cover my front teeth. They scrimped to be able to afford them, and I thank them for that because having straight teeth was truly a confidence builder. Orthodontia wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, and I had full braces for about 6 years, and a retainer for 3 more. My mother used to tell me that after a tightening session, I would sit on the couch with tears rolling down my face, but never made a sound because I was so glad to be able to have braces.

  11. One of our daughters has very sensitive skin and whenever she shaves her legs she ends up with very red, bumpy, irritated skin. Our dermatologist recommended PFB Vanish for that. Also recommended La Roche-Posay products for skin care, specifically Toleriane Riche Cream to use also as a shaving cream, which was simply amazing in the results that she got!

  12. Hey! I’m glad our conversation helped. My teeth have been really awful for decades, especially since I was about 25 years old and I was self conscious about it too, especially doing TV appearances.

    So far they’re a pain, two months into it I’m still steering clear of lots of foods, I’m down 15lbs, and I eat ice cream every night just to get some calories in. My teeth are moving around and my roots are a bit sensitive when biting into anything firmer than a slice of sandwich bread.

    I didn’t think your front teeth were all that messed up JD, just a slight adjustment is what it looked like, so I was hoping you could get away with Invisalign retainers instead, but glad you’re doing ok with the full braces. I’m counting the days until I finally get these off.

  13. My story is so similar to yours, but I am a 50 year old with braces! Started out with Invisilign two years ago. I didn’t get me completely where I wanted to be, so I have had the ceramics for about 4 months. Should be done in about a month or two. Also lost 45 pounds last year after trying the Weight Watchers system. I started doing cardio and weight training about 6 months ago too. I feel and look better than I ever have.

    I figured what the heck, I was going to be 50 regardless (I hoped!), so I might as well be 50 with straight teeth. Good luck to you.

  14. Congratulations! Teeth are so important. I had horrible teeth growing up and my parents were unable and unwilling to do anything to straighten or repair them. By the time I was an adult and could afford to pay for braces myself, it seemed a bit silly and self-obsessed to spend so much money on something โ€˜cosmeticโ€™. So I spent about 40 years feeling self-conscious, and avoiding wide smiles that might display my crooked, tombstone-like choppers. I was actually a little relieved last year when my dentist pointed out that my front teeth were so badly chipped they were in danger of cracking, and suggested I get them repaired. Yes, it was expensive. But I feel so much more confident now they’ve been fixed! If Iโ€™d known how much better it would feel, Iโ€™d have found a way to do it years ago.

  15. My wife got braces when she was in her early 30s. Her problem wasn’t that bad, but she is really happy with the result. I’m glad she did it. No wonder you always look so grouchy in photos. You’re much more friendly in person. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I had braces for years when I was a kid, night headgear too for a while to correct an overbite (which is still there, btw). In fact, I look like I have vampire fangs in one of my school photos because I had rubber bands between upper and lower teeth.

    And you know what my mom always told me when I complained? That I would be grateful when I was older.

    Today, I just got older! I can’t image how much more difficult it would be to get that work done now, and I’m proud of you for going for it and for going public with it. If the thing I hated about my body could be fixed with braces, I’d go for it too!

  17. Hey! Congrats on your braces ๐Ÿ™‚

    Don’t forget to floss – you don’t want unsightly brace stains on your teeth once you have your new straight smile!

    I know lots of people that got braces in their 40’s – and they’re so happy about it. Enjoy!

  18. You will be so happy you got braces! I spent three years in pre-pubescent hell wearing braces…but my goodness a nice smile can change a lot of things! I wouldn’t give up my smile for the world and people frequently comment on it. I would however suggest getting a permanent retainer put in when you are done. I have so many friends who never wore their retainers and their teeth went back to being crooked. Adjusting to eating once you put braces on and when you take them off can be a challenge.

    Just keep living your life and in no time they will be gone!

  19. WELCOME TO THE CLUB!! I’m 29 and finally made the difficult decision to get mine 6 months ago-here’s my most recent post with pics of my progress-I hope it leaves you feeling inspired about yours! And congrats….it isn’t easy to get them as an adult and I remember thinking on my first day how will I EVER get used to this….but I don’t think about it too much anymore-mostly when I eat-my technique is to rip apart my food with my fingers and put small bites into my mouth-it really takes the joy out of eating a cheeseburger.

  20. I had braces from age 24 to 26. I opted for the Invisalign style of braces so that I could take them out when needed. It cost me a LOT of money, even with my dental insurance, but oh man, I felt so much better about my appearance. ๐Ÿ™‚ My teeth were never super crooked either, but it definitely made me feel self conscious. Since finishing treatment, I’ve been really happy with the results. Plus, straight teeth are easier to floss!

  21. You will love the results after braces! I had mine for 2 1/2 yrs, off at 29. And I wish I had done it sooner! I can now bite into apples and like foods. And my smile is so much better. Get lots of dental wax and oragel at first. Cold soft foods like smoothies helped me so much at first and when I got an adjustment. All worth it in the end.

    And my husband and I went to black rock lodge in belize in nov and what a gem!! Thanks for writing those articles on it!

  22. My grandmother got braces when she was 89, she’s now 91 and has a great smile. It just all comes down to doing what makes you happy.

    : ) :

  23. To weigh in with more sensitive skin advice: have you tried Aveeno moisturizer? I have very sensitive skin and Aveeno is essential for me. Without it I get terrible razor burn on my legs. Aveeno has oatmeal in it, and oatmeal is a natural anti-inflammatory. You don’t need the special face kind, just regular old moisturizer. I was allergic to the kind with sunscreen in it, so watch out for that.

  24. A few years ago, a lady rear ended me while I sat at a stop light. I was 4 months pregnant at the time. My mouth hit the steering wheel and two of my front teeth on top were knocked out. I had always had beautiful, straight white teeth and here I was with two front teeth missing at age 30!

    I had to wear a partial denture until my pregnancy was over. Then, I began the nightmarish process of getting dental implants. During that time, I had to wear a series of partial dentures that looked awful. It was so embarassing and I have 18 months of pictures of myself without a smile!

    I know just what you mean about being embarassed. Now that I have my new implants, I feel like I can smile again. I feel normal. I never had any idea what an impact an attractive smile could make.

    I’m sure it will be worth it and I hope you are happy with the result!

  25. You look great with a big smile! Glad you took the plunge even if it was just a confidence issue. ๐Ÿ™‚ My teeth are messed up but I never have cared. But my weight makes me self-conscious. When I was at 180 pounds in early 2011, I didn’t want to even go the first FinCon since I felt like a piglet. That motivated me to lose 30 pounds in 5-6 months and I attended FinCon11 at 150-155 and felt great. We all have something. It’s just a matter of learning not to care or changing it…only choices we have, right?

  26. You’re going to look so good when it’s done! I just got braces on last Tuesday and they are definitely strange. Eating is a bother and I can’t stand food in them. I understand your cleaning process and take forever myself. I was in Invisilign for way longer than I should have been which got my teeth straight but ruined the function, created big gaps and tilted them weird. It was nice to remove them to brush and floss. Anyway, I can’t bite and left with little choice but to get braces with a new orthodontist. So expensive!!

    You’re so wise for making this choice now while you’re still young. Now that I’m 36, yeah 40 something is young! Enjoy your new smile and confidence. It’s worth every penny!

  27. Your ability to make yourself vulnerable is a strength. I admire that. Your ability to write about anything, make it interesting, meaningful, genuine, and something people can relate to is a SUPER POWER!

  28. I used Invisalign for 1 year at age 50. It worked very well and I could floss properly while using them. Nobody ever mentioned them and some people were really surprised when I told them about it.

  29. Thank you for this posting! I’ve read your articles since GRS. I also read the comments on this post and realized something everyone here is saying.. it’s never too late for braces. I’m 28 and I’ve wanted them all my life and this has made me realize…what better is the right time than now. It’s so awesome to hear of others in the same boat.

    Thanks for sharing, JD. You look happy in your braces.

  30. Good for you regarding the braces. I got braces when I was in my mid-20s. But it was in the late 1970s, and it wasn’t nearly as common then for adults to get braces. I was very self-conscious about it, but knew I was doing the right thing for my dental issues. I’m very grateful I was able to get the corrections I needed and my braces experience is still doing me a lot of good all these years later. I hope you have a similar positive experience.

  31. Congrats, JD! I’m 13 months into braces (at age 28) and I am SO GLAD I got them. I have the same as you – ceramic. Beyond the aesthetic improvement (once they come off), they have made huge improvements in my gum health – no more bleeding when flossing (yay threaders). The only real adjustments have been learning how to eat, and having elastics. The only real pain was the first night in strong elastics, and when they move brackets.

    If you haven’t already gotten these tips, I’d recommend stashing little proxy brushes in every coat, backpack, and bag you own, so you always have one with you. My favorite flossing method is regular floss with a threader needle. In a pinch, you can pick out stuck food with the toothpick attachment of a pocket knife (and use the big blade as a mirror). Also, a little mirror and a headlight let you clean anywhere (even on backpacking trips and in 3rd world countries).

    Enjoy the journey!