Brace Yourself

5.14.07: A new mom's beauty woes take a startling turn


My teeth are crooked. They always have been. I've grown used to that over the years, considered it part of my allure, such as it is. But during a recent trip to the dentist, I received a bit of shocking news: They have crossed the line from charmingly crooked to problematically crooked. I will need to get braces.

I came into the dentist's office complaining about some big gaps that seem to have magically opened up between my molars over the past couple of years. I guess I thought maybe aging played a role in this process, or perhaps receding gums.

Pregnancy, turns out, was the main culprit.

Relaxin, the same hormone that enables your pelvic ligaments to move freely for smooth delivery, also make it possible for your teeth to float around in your jaw. Researchers at the University of Florida are looking into actually injecting orthodontic patients with relaxin to help speed the process (read about it here). Usually, this movement is negligible; in my case, my teeth moved about quite a bit. Enough to significantly change my bite. Enough to cause the enamel to wear away on a cuspid and an incisor. Enough to move my jaw out of alignment.

I don't HAVE to have braces, my dentist explained; no one can make me do it. It is, after all, expensive, time consuming, and uncomfortable--and that's the best-case scenario. She could close the gaps with filling material, she said. But my teeth would continue to move with age, and I'd grow more and more Austin Powerslike with each year. Chances would be good that I'd start to lose teeth early in my life. I'd probably end up with dentures at some point. I'd become a very good candidate for TMJ.

And so, I'll probably get braces. I'll need them on top and bottom--no discreet Invisalign for me, I need the full-on train tracks (not as awful as they used to be, but still). I'll probably have to get four teeth removed. I'll be awkward and geeky. At age 41 (not at--transpose those numbers!--14, the age I'm sure most of the other bracefaces in the orthodontist's office will be).

This entry, as you've noticed, has nothing to do with my weight, or food, or how I feel about my weight or food. But I thought I'd share this story anyway, since it might come in handy for somebody.

If you're pregnant, and you've ever worn braces, consider breaking out the retainer now. If you haven't worn braces, but you know you grind your teeth, talk to your dentist about getting a mouth guard to protect your teeth. If your teeth are crooked going into your pregnancy--well, good luck. Keep your eye on things. I didn't. I let two years or more pass between dental visits, because I didn't want to go while I was pregnant and then because I had a new baby and no time. I don't know whether there was any way to keep thing in line. Now I never will.

Hillari Dowdle will fit back into her favorite pants one of these days. Check this column every week, and you will no doubt be among the first to read all about it!