Like many people, I had a brace fitted when I was 14. Unfortunately, an ill-fitting retainer and a stroppy teenager are not a good combination, and my teeth quickly moved around again.
When I reached my twenties, perfect teeth haunted me every day. Not mine, you understand, but Halle Berry's, the Beckhams' and Kirsten Dunst's - to name a few.
Finally, last May, I had a meeting with a dentist, Dr Michael Carling, and we started chatting about my concerns. I asked what he thought of veneers, but he suggested that I speak to Dr Neil Counihan of Elleven Orthodontics, who in turn said that a brace could make the world of difference. It's not cheap: the ones I'm having cost £4,850, but that means they are set for life - and prices vary from £2,850 to £7,500, depending on what you have. Veneers can cost much more, and they have to be replaced. I know which I'd prefer!
5 May 2005
I spend a good couple of hours talking about the brace process with Dr Counihan. It's weird having all your faults highlighted so clearly, but I'm certain I want to go ahead with this.
The brace is on. It takes a couple of hours but I just sit back and watch Friends on Elleven's DVD headset. Then I'm handed a mirror. What are my first thoughts? Metal. The white of my teeth has given way to silver and it's a shock. Walking down the street is odd. Are my lips suddenly super-sized? No, but I can't close my mouth without some huge, guppy fish-style effort. I'm a little emotional.
My first meal is a tragedy. I try mashed potatoes and baked beans and, about two hours later, I feel something flapping at the back of my mouth. I panic, then discover a piece of potato skin working itself free from the confines of my brackets. It's so horrid that I gag.
My friends and family are all very encouraging, but it is really scary revealing the brace to them. My confidence has taken a bit of a knock.
When I see my three-year-old nephew for the first time in a while, he points at my mouth, looking very concerned. I explain that they are helping my teeth and that they don't hurt, and that he might have one one day. Suddenly he looks very relieved. "Oh no," he tells me, "it's OK. I brush my teeth."
I have my first wire change. Nothing painful. The wire is clipped out of the brackets and a tougher one is slotted in. The teeth are coming on splendidly. My oral hygiene technique is "impeccable", and I've never seen anyone be so excited about my "four, five and six" as Dr Counihan is. He points out they are the teeth previously obscured by my twisty canine, and now I'm excited, too.
But I wonder about my reasons for doing this. Looking at the braces, they are quite extreme. I have a chat with psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, and she says that if you start to worry about any part of your body: "You're going to feel much more conscious. You feel you have to fix something, and your brain is focused on that task. So your brain is saying, 'I want to be aware of teeth. I want to see the dazzling veneers.' If your self-esteem is low, you might look to change something. If you got your teeth done and expected to get a promotion or date Brad Pitt, that is unrealistic." Well, fair enough. I'm taken, anyway.
I've just got back from a two-week break in the US. Wherever I looked, there were billboards the size of Birmingham showing perfect, airbrushed pearlies. Indeed, there was a big advertising push for NBC's new, all-female TV series, which featured four beaming blondes wearing tight jumpers and identical - perfect - smiles. The only way to tell them apart was the length of their hair. My friend Jamie, who lives in San Francisco, is surprised about the idea of braces as an adult. "Everyone has them when they're younger, it's like a rite of passage. But I'm talking about big old steel ones - when those clear things came out I was like, 'Get me them now!" I didn't care if it set my treatment back, I just had to have those."
I feel a bit silly again, especially as Jamie has incredible teeth, but then I remember something Dr Papadopoulos said: "You have had to put up with the pain of having a brace fitted but you're doing it just to look better. It becomes a problem when it takes over. It's refreshing to hear someone be honest. Most of us aren't honest enough." Yes, I think, it's all going to look good in the end. I hope.
I've just come from seeing Dr Counihan. "Oh, look at that. Just look at that. We can see your back teeth," he said. "And it's just..." At that point he trails off in silent awe.
Also, what is really interesting is that, while we are catching up (we have one of those relationships usually reserved for hairdressers), it emerges that I have changed a bit. "I can see when you come in here you're smiling. You're really smiling. Look at those back teeth..." Again, he trails off. He's right. I'm now at that stage where I'm smiling so broadly that people really notice the braces, but I don't care. My mouth is just too damn fine.
I've also been told that 8 March is the day I will have my braces off. Then I can finally eat sushi in public again. I've already e-mailed my friends and family about Brace/Off celebratory drinks. And I've started eyeing up those Hubba Bubba packets in the newsagent.
I ask my friends for their opinions on the brace. "I don't think they were as noticeable as you thought," says Han, kindly. "When you first got them it was more that you couldn't speak properly than what they looked like."
They're off. It is a little uncomfortable having them removed, and I feel very self-conscious about the Independent photographer snapping away while my mouth is being prodded and poked. But it's so, so worth it. When I am handed the mirror, I do that open-mouthed, gasping thing which looks so silly. But I can't help it. I'm now smiling constantly, and I even take a detour through Debenhams on my way to the Tube just to smile and say "no, thanks" to the perfume warriors. I'm also admiring my teeth both via my compact and in shop windows. I'm so happy. It's the start of a new, smilier me.
Elleven Orthodontics, 11 Devonshire Place, London W1, ( www.ellevenorthodontics.com; 020-7487 2711);
Dr Michael Carling's Dental Practice, 72 Harley Street London W1 (020-7580 3168)
'Mirror Mirror' by Dr Linda Papadopoulos is published by Hodder, priced £10.99
For further information about braces, contact the British Orthodontic Society, www.bos.org.ukReuse content