Probably one of the worst trials a child can have to endure, at least growing up in an industrialized country, is having to wear braces on his teeth. The kids I knew up through high school that had them, while not shunned at all, were different, partaking of strange rituals that the rest of us could only guess at. Unless they had darn good self esteem, they didn't smile much, even among their friends — and especially after lunch. Then there was the potential of the feared "locking" phenomenon when two of them kissed. And to think that all that was an improvement, compared to when they had to wear their headgear. And their parents had to contend with the financial end of it, which wasn't easy.

I've always been grateful that I didn't have to go through that. I've been blessed with relatively good teeth, though my bruxism did some real damage over the years. That was the cause of my getting a custom-made NightGuard about a year ago, which both protected my teeth from the nighttime (and daytime, to a lesser extent) grinding, and to an extent taught my jaws to have a bit better registration.

But as of yesterday, your favorite dawg is himself wearing braces. But things are different now than when I was a kid. I would not have put myself through that kind of torture (especially since my problem is not severe, and the reaction of everyone I know was "Why are you getting braces? There's nothing wrong with your teeth."), but as always, Dr. Razi, the best dentist in the whole world, is on top of things, peddling the very latest in dental treatments.

He suggested, and I assented to, a treatment regimen of Invisalign braces to correct my bite. Invisalign — "The clear way to straighten teeth". No metal cemented to my teeth, no wires stretching from ear to ear, no rubber bands, no "appliances".

Instead, I have a custom shell of hard, transparent plastic covering my upper teeth, and another for the lower. A perfect fit, a negative image of the mold that was made of my mouth a month ago. Well, not actually a perfect fit. They will be a perfect fit in about two weeks, after gently pulling (some of) my teeth a fraction of a millimeter away from where they started, left, right, back, forward, or rotated.

And then, after a lifetime (for them) of faithful service, I'll discard them in favor of the the second set. It will have been waiting patiently for each tooth to find its way to where it belongs for the next two weeks of persuasion.

There are twenty two sets of these with my name on them, each slightly different, each made to order. The mold that Dr. Razi made was sent off to Align Technology in Santa Clara, California. There a computer studied it carefully and created a detailed map of my teeth and emailed it to Dr. Razi. Using a program provided by Invisalign, he then modified it to reflect the arrangement that he wants me to have, and returned it to them.

Using techniques at least partially related to the morphing that we see in so many movies these days, the computer calculated a series of intermediate steps that would take my teeth from point A to point B. Each of those steps was then sculpted in plastic, and the plan was set. For each person, the number of steps involved may be different, and each step may move a different subset of my entire dental complement. Along with the trays (as dentists call any molded appliance that one wears on his teeth), they also delivered an animation showing all the tooth movement from beginning to end, which is fun to watch. It even prepares me for the time when I will temporarily have a gap between two of my teeth, where this is none now and will not be at the end.

I wear the trays 24 hours a day, except that I pop them out before eating, then brush and snap them right back in. As the well thought out name implies, they are quite undetectable to the casual observer. Even a determined person may have to peer quite carefully to be convinced that I am, in fact, wearing braces.

There is some soreness, as one would have to expect since my teeth are being forcefully displaced, but is quite manageable. It was a little bit worse this morning when I woke up, but then subsided for most of the day. I'm told that there may be a little more when I move from one stage to the next, but nothing like what kids have been subjected to for years.

The biggest problem that I've had was yesterday at lunchtime, when I went to take them off prior to eating — I couldn't get them off! After six or seven minutes of trying, I called the office and felt foolish when I asked how to do it. Well, I was doing it correctly; it was expected that they would be more difficult to remove the first couple of times. (If you don't have any fingernails, you can fuhgeddaboutit.) The top one is harder to remove, and I was able to get one side to start coming away, but then couldn't get the other side. You definitely want to pull them straight off, without twisting. Taking them off does hurt a bit, because unless they come off in one smooth motion, being halfway off causes them to be putting their stress on the wrong part of the teeth. But having removed them four times now, it has gotten much better.

The other oddity is related to the small dots that were affixed to my teeth yesterday. I don't know what their purpose is, but their number and placement was also specified in the treatment program. (I have four on one side of my mouth and two on the other). I can't feel them with the trays in place, but after eating, it feels like there is food stuck in my teeth! I think it will take a while to adapt and not try to pick at it before I brush.

There are some really impressive before and after photos on the company's website, of treatments ranging in duration from six months to twenty two.

Align Technology, Inc. was founded in 1997, and seven years later has straightened the teeth of over a hundred thousand people. The idea of successive incremental appliances to straighten teeth was first developed in 1945, but the far-sighted Dr. Kesling knew it would be a long time before the capability to manufacture them could be developed.

Invisalign — another step forward in the long campaign to redeem the reputations of dentists, and getting wimps like me to sit in their chairs and obey the command: "Open."


Observations

March 24, 2004 Several times, after emplacing the upper tray, I pinched a tiny bit of skin between my back molar and the tray; this was easily remedied by sliding my finger along the side of the tray from front to back. This afternoon, there was a significant ache all day, but not sharp and localized like that had been, just general soreness. I assumed that would just be the case sometimes. Turns out (as I found out the next time I removed them) that I must have had a big ol' chunk o' cheek grabbed on somehow, because I saw a quarter-inch-square section erupted (not the right word) — and it had a nice imprint of a bicuspid in it! Re-placing the tray after dinner, the pain did not return, and there hasn't been any to speak of since. To be sure that doesn't happen again, I now use my two middle fingers to hold my cheeks wide while maneuvering and seating the tray with my ring fingers.

Johnny Boy says re Invisalign: … I bet there aren't even any sharp edges scarring the inside of your cheeks for years, either.
Well, JB, I did have some for a few days.

March 27,2004 I had been warned of possible speech impediments that might manifest for the first day or two of each new set of aligners. I have not had this problem, but I noticed today that I can't whistle anymore! At least using the non-pursed-lips method, which I prefer. The pursed lips method is slightly affected.


http://www.invisalign.com

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