When I was twelve, I got braces. The first time. I got them off four long years later, with the expectation that, as long as I wore my retainer, everything was golden. It is important to note here that I'm missing a tooth. Right up in the front, next to my two front teeth, there's a hole on my right side. A fake tooth was built onto my retainer, and I wore it religiously for eight. whole. years. I took it off to eat, and didn't wear it at night, but I wore it.
A couple of years ago, my dentist looked at the space created by my braces and frowned. He pointed out that the space wasn't big enough for an implant. That we'd need to do something to make the space bigger.
This Tuesday I went in for a consultation at a new orthodontist's office. The braces went on today, with just one day in between (during which I got my fist dose of Pfizer). The turn-around was so quick that I didn't truly have time to process. I was told that my headgear days are over (fingers crossed that doesn't turn out to be a lie!), but as long as the braces had to go on, it made sense to correct all the little things that are standing in the way of a "perfect smile," whatever that means. (Despite the fact that I've never had a cavity and routinely doze off at the dentist, I have pretty yellow teeth. I have no issue with the color of my teeth, and I talk so much that people probably don't see much of them anyway.)
What's important here is the processing part, though. I was always careful to have the top retainer in for pictures. I felt ugly and unprofessional-- like I looked young or uneducated without it. Braces mean somewhere around a year and-a-half without that tooth, something that made me feel pretty and smart for eight years. When acknowledging the reality of another round of braces, it slipped my mind that so much of my self- esteem hinges on that tooth. My eyes filled with tears as soon as I left the building, feeling frustrated at myself and mourning the loss of something I didn't realize I would lose.
I don't want to open my mouth. I have to re- learn how to talk around braces, have to get used to a stronger lisp. As I sat in the dentist's chair, the headrest flattening my afro, I was drafting funny captions for an Instagram post about my second round of braces. I had some good ideas, thought the silliness would be appealing.
The uncomfortable reality, though, is that I don't feel comfortable sharing them. I feel vulnerable, like sharing the photos of me without that one tooth would be like dropping my own nudes.
Years of work to love myself feel like they disappeared over the two hours it took to put on new brackets. I've never been happier to have to wear a mask.
Love yourselves for me, as I figure out how to navigate my own self- worth (and how to talk/ enunciate).
Everyday Acts of Activism