Beyond a Smile: Can Braces Build Character?

(Paul Frank design on a t-shirt from Target)It must be a mom thing to think your kid’s Jack-o-lantern smile is adorable, even if your kid doesn’t. But nobody wants to see a child develop self-esteem issues, and the day mine was told by a classmate that she had “country teeth” was the day we knew a bite correction wasn’t as compelling as having a pretty smile. The aesthetics do matter, even if we keep saying It’s What’s Inside That Counts.

The dentist finally declared it was time for an orthodontic consultation and we checked the fine print of our insurance coverage (whew!  an orthodontic benefit!).

Lord knows there are many things much worse than crooked teeth. Teeth can be fixed with a multitude of methods: orthodontics, bleaching, even veneers. Besides, braces are almost a rite of passage, potentially even cool. Why else would you experiment by fashioning a smile out of aluminum foil?

But if there is a lesson in braces, it is that a bit of cruelty and discomfort may not be a bad thing.

Perhaps it’s because I’m now beyond the braces+glasses+Oxy Clean phase that I’m convinced wearing braces can build character. (A friend and I joke that the awkward years of puberty forced us to develop our pleasant (?) personalities.  Maybe we still haven’t recovered from those school days. Let’s just say neither of us lets our mothers keep our K-through-12  school photo collage on display.)

Whenever I am with my kids and hear a remark – on TV, by a friend, or certainly by them –  about someone who is awkward, unattractive, perceived as disabled*, or otherwise out of the mainstream, I seize it as a teachable moment to remind them: This is a situation this person can’t help. There may not be a medical remedy, or one may be  financially unobtainable for them. How have you felt when you have been judged based on a feature you can’t help, like your teeth? So how can you or your friends ever be harsh about another person’s situation?

The kids can recite the Tooth Lecture from memory. You are so lucky. You have healthy teeth that just need to be repositioned. You have access to orthodontists and your parents are able to get you to treatment. Years ago, these treatments were not available. Why do you think so many older people have bridges or dentures? They didn’t have the routine care that you take for granted. Don’t get smug.

And doggone it, you had BETTER wear that retainer. I am building your school photo collage and I want some big smiles to show for these insurance deductibles.

*On a positive note, mainstream education and sensitivity training seems to be working. The kids are almost defensive of any classmates with special needs. It’s the regular old taller/shorter/deeper voice/pudgy kids that seem to get the unwelcome attention. Doesn’t that include all of us at some point?