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29 and Braces-Free at Last

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29 and Braces-Free at Last photo 1

My quarter as a graduate student at Northwestern University just started, but I may as well have just come back to high school from summer vacation. Yesterday morning my braces came off. When I smile at you—as I’m doing a lot right now—it’s non-metallic and without a grill. You guys remember that feeling? I’m here to tell you now: it’s exactly as awesome as you remember.

The story of why I needed braces is boring, but the story of how I came to need braces is pretty good, though the squeamish may want to skip the next paragraph.

Back in my first year of college, there was this boy in our dorm that everybody loved. (He had a girlfriend, but we still all liked him.) One day I was wandering down our smooth-as-marble concrete hallways, wearing socks, when I happened to see him in another friend’s room. I thought I would execute a smooth about-face and hang out in the doorway. Instead I fell flat on my face and—well, I need a crown now, so: braces at 29.

I bet you can relate to this. I had braces from fourth grade through my junior year of high school. My orthodontist actually lived across the street from me (and yes, he always gave out sugar-free chewing gum and toothbrushes on Halloween). When it came to wacky rubber band colors and combinations, I did it all, including (natch) glow-in-the-dark. I had rubber bands, I had retainers I didn’t wear—I had my first kiss with braces. He didn’t have them, nor did any of my other high school boyfriends, but I always wondered if the getting-stuck-together thing could actually happen.

Hilariously enough, this spring, as soon as I announced that I would be getting braces again, everyone cheered me on.

“You’ll look super cute with them!”

“A lot of people our age seem to be getting braces right now.”

“You never know, I know some guys who are really into girls with braces.”

29 and Braces-Free at Last photo 2

It was totally not the reaction I was expecting, but it was absolutely the reality of having them. (Well, except for finding the braces-liking dudes to date, but if anyone’s looking, I’ve still got ‘em on my bottom teeth.) That support—or really, the not-caring about this trip back to teenage-hood—made things easier when my whole mouth ached, or when I couldn’t floss without extensive maneuvering, or (to my shame) when everyone knew what I’d had for lunch.

The timing on this is great. If you’re going to reach for a neat plot point in all this, I’m in my last quarter of graduate school. Now begins the job hunt, the next steps, the trajectory out of school and back into the “real world.” I was worried about potential employers taking me seriously with braces. But now I have better problems.

Yesterday afternoon I sat in a waiting room with about 10 middle-schoolers, all of us half-watching the end of A Bug’s Life. Finally my turn came, and I sat down to try on my brand new retainer. I have to wear it whenever I’m not eating, drinking or brushing my teeth; otherwise my teeth will move. It’s clear plastic—I remember chewing through a couple of them in high school. But the best part is keeping them clean.

I clean this lovely new retainer—my next step to getting my crown—with denture cleaner. They’re quarter-sized green tablets that fizz when you drop them in water. You remember every cartoon of an old person ever, reaching for their fake teeth in a glass on their bed stand.

That’s my future until I can get my crown. I’ve gone from rubber bands to denture cleaner, all in the space of a day.

No sweat on my part, though. I’m going to look super cute doing it.

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