I like to hear other people's orthodonture war stories. Heaven knows there's plenty of them floating around out there, and whenever roundtable discussions break out about braces, headgears, and retainers, I always like to listen in and participate, hoping that maybe someone else will talk about having to wear a FUNCTIONAL REGULATOR. That's the scientific term for the device I had to wear for about three years to correct an overbite, starting when I was in the third grade. It's also known as the Frankel Appliance, named after its inventor (one Rolf Frankel), but my orthodontist referred to it as an FR.
When my brother Stephen and I were first informed that we were going to see an orthodontist to see about having our overbites fixed, I don't remember even being mildly worried about what I was going to wind up with. I only remember being maybe a little excited about something new and different winging its way into my little third-grader life. Then came the first visit to our orthodontist, Dr. Hershon- a man who acted like he didn't like children very much- and the unpleasantness started. Sitting in the backseat of the station wagon on the long drives to his office through Nowheresville, getting impressions done and sitting in a big chair, gagging on what felt like a mouthful of hardening cement and trying not to drown in my own drool, more sitting in another big chair while Dr. Hershon tried to see if he could fit both of his hairy, catcher's mitt sized hands in my mouth at the same time- it was all a drag, but I was a trooper and behaved well. Meanwhile my brother Stephen, 3 years older than me, was getting braces installed and received a headgear to correct his overbite and other problems, whereas I was younger and had a more malleable mouth, and thus wound up with the FR. Then I got handed my sentence: three years or more wearing this...THING... that looked like 3 or 4 retainers balled up into one great big hunk of metal and pink plastic:
It was huge. I wasn't prepared for the way it filled my whole mouth up with big hunks of plastic and little wires everywhere. It held my jaws together and kept my tongue compressed and little pools of spit were constantly forming in the nooks and crannies around my teeth, and this excess spit would have to be sucked back into my throat occasionally with a great "CCcchhhhhhccchh!" I couldn't talk and wear it at the same time. If I did, I sounded like a severely retarded person doing a Boris Karloff impersonation. "Miss Montgomery gave us a math test today" would sound like "ccchhhhhMMmhhsssMMnngoohhmmreeghaaavchhhhsssssaMmmahhchessssstodaaaacchcchchchhh." So, say, if I was in school and my teacher asked me a question, before I answered I had to suck in some spit pools real quick, pull the FR from my mouth, and attempt to sever the long string(s) of drool which usually stretched from my lip to the wires. Nice. I still have two little dents on the insides of my cheeks from those little metal loops on the sides. I also remember the way the FR smelled. It seemed that no matter how much I brushed it and cleaned it, it smelled odd. Not quite a bad odor, but just "off" enough to be mildly but constantly unpleasant and disconcerting.
I was told to start wearing it for a half hour a day, then an hour a day, and so on. At first, I tried to be OK with it, "A half hour? OK, I'll wear it while I watch The Munsters and tomorrow I'll wear it while I watch The Munsters and Bewitched!" No problem. I tried to be a big girl about it. Then came the first time I had to go to bed while wearing it. You see, even though I was in the third grade, I still hadn't completely let go of my ragged old security blanket, which lived in my pajama drawer during the day and in my bed with me at night. That blanket had a rich and glorious history which I'll talk about some other time, but at bedtime, it was part of my routine to put on my jammies, get out my blanket, climb up into bed under the covers, and snuggle down with the blanket held up to my face....with my right thumb in my mouth. Yep, a thumbsucker. Only at night, but still- I wasn't supposed to be doing that and I knew it, but I just couldn't fall asleep without my blanket and my thumb. And I was so embarrassed when my mom told the orthodontist and other grownups about my aberrant behavior. So I vowed to myself that whatever came of this orthodonture business, NO ONE could take my thumb away from me.
Then came that first night with the FR. I climbed into bed with my blanket and tried to fall asleep as usual, but...I couldn't get my thumb in my mouth. There just wasn't any room! I tried for about 15 minutes to find a loophole somewhere in that bird's nest of arbitrary wires, but it was just no good. I held my security blanket up to my face, still enjoying its cozy feel and fuzzy, blanket-y smell, but it wasn't the same. "I'll try again tomorrow night," I thought, trying to pretend that they hadn't broken me, but I knew it was over.
Eventually I got used to the goddamn thing, the way you would get used to having a bad back, I suppose. Of course I wore it dutifully until my brother and I both got released from our orthodontic troubles at the same time, in 1984 I think. We both went out into the driveway with my dad's sledgehammer and absolutely destroyed my FR, his retainer, and his headgear. Actually, Stephen stalked off into the woods with the headgear and viciously twisted it around a tree branch. My dad frowned on this cathartic behavior towards these expensive appliances, but my mom was tickled. She had wanted our teeth to be fixed, but at the same time she intensely disliked our orthodontist and knew that the appliances were a shameful, embarrassing ordeal. In fact, my mom told me recently that when Dr. Hershon tried to give us even more othodontic stuff to deal with after the braces came off and the FR had done its work and our teeth were fine, she refused. He started to insist, but then my mom told him off, saying she'd had enough of his crabby and insufferable demeanor and that her kids were sick of him, too. He said "Well, I don't know about Stephen, but I know that Amy's been fine with me." "AMY IS SO AGREEABLE, SHE WOULD BE FINE WITH THE MARQUIS DE SADE!!!" she retorted, and would hear no more of it.
I may have been agreeable, but I was and am also stubborn and sentimental, for I never could bear to throw away the security blanket. I haven't looked at it in years and years, but it still lives in an undisclosed location in my house. No grownup's gonna make me get rid of my blanket if I don't want to.