SURPRISING CONNECTION #6: Braces and Change
Embrace Change—Get Realigned
As an under-confident and self-conscious teenager, I declined my parents’ offer to set me up with braces. Or if I’m more honest, I outright refused. I couldn’t bear the idea of having a metal smile adding to my self-image issues. I just wasn’t ready. I preferred my overbite.
So, in my late 20’s I made the move. I encased my teeth in the barbed wire called braces, took on the pain of the metal–and the pain of the expense. Two years later, those wires produced the smile I always wanted and a partner! They came off right before a major turning point in my life—my wedding day. In the same way I thought my marriage would last, I also thought my perfect and beautiful smile would as well. I was wrong on both counts.
My life shifted and evidently so did my teeth. My dentist recently confirmed it—my bite was off again, teeth were jostling for position in my mouth, and they would continue down this path unless I did something about it. I was “out of alignment” and this called for action.
Invisalign seemed to be the answer. If you don’t know what Invisalign is, imagine wearing a mouth guard fitted just for you that you wear for 6 weeks at a time and continually replace over a period of months or years. It’s made of a clear plastic-like substance and snaps in and out of your mouth easily. (I think of them as my pre-dentures.) You’re required to wear them 22 hours a day, taking them out only long enough to eat, brush, and reinsert.
Admittedly, I have not been in love with them this first week. But I do love the name…Invisalign. I am embarking on an invisible alignment. I feel both proud and uncomfortable.
Here’s what my Invisalign is reminding me about change and the need to get realigned.
Staying aligned requires constant care and action. I thought I had this handled a long time ago. I had done this already—this working on the teeth thing. Checked the box. Ya mean I had to do it again? Yes, the changes we need to make aren’t necessarily one-and-done. Unless I wanted my teeth to regress, I need to take new action.
Change is painful. It’s not an excruciating pain but a dull ache. It’s tolerable and necessary, but uncomfortable. Slowly, my tongue is adjusting to the foreign plastic edges encroaching on its space. The grip of the mouthpiece is feeling more like a hug than a strangle-hold. My lips are making way for this intruder. My temporary lisp has subsided, and I’m reminded that the hardest part is committing to the change. It’s getting easier with time.
Changes takes longer than we think. Dr. Vila/Carlos—my friend and dentist rolled up in one—read the treatment plan. “You should be done in 6 months, but” he added, “expect it to take longer.” Transitions take time, and we can’t always foresee exactly how much time. We simply get on with them and let the process unfold.
Positive change goes hand-in-hand with getting more conscious. I can no longer unconsciously pop something into my mouth. I need to remove the Invisalign trays first, rinse them, set them aside, eat, brush, and re-insert. So now I’m forced to weigh each eating and drinking choice. Is it worth it? Do I need this snack? This change is overriding my auto-pilot for eating whatever I want whenever I want. I’m thinking more, but eating less and brushing more. Sometimes one change leads to other positive changes.
Our misalignment may be invisible to others, but we know we need help. People say they didn’t notice my teeth shifting. They’re either being polite, or it wasn’t obvious yet. Either way, I knew things were out of alignment. We are the ones who know what we most need and when we are out of alignment. Fortunately, many realignments can be subtle, through means invisible to others.
Change is ongoing. Just when I get comfortable wearing this Invisalign tray, I’ll get another one and begin a new adjustment period. It’s necessary in order for things to keep moving in the right direction. In time, I’ll be ready to graduate to a retainer. This cycle of discomfort to comfort and back to discomfort is how we improve over a lifetime.
It ultimately yields favorable results. It’s important to take the long view. Times of change, realignment and discomfort often signal something big and new around the corner that we’re getting ready for. In my case, I can picture and feel my realigned smile. And I feel other shifts in my work and life happening that are quite exciting as well.
May the same be true for you! Embrace the changes in front of you and get on the path to an invisible realignment!