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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wear Your Retainers, Kids

Artwork showing a shark with braces. (In British English I think they're called something different? I mean the wires for straightening teeth.) Image source.
Way back in the day, I had braces. Then after I got them off, I got a retainer. And I had to wear it every night, for forever. That's what the orthodontist said.

I was a good kid who took rules very seriously- but I had been noticing that I often took rules more seriously than they were actually intended to be. I maintain that this is not my fault; it was adults saying things they didn't really mean. (Also, Asperger's. But let's not pretend like that lets adults off the hook for saying things they didn't actually mean.) Like about wasting water. I was so worried that future generations wouldn't have clean water, I stopped flushing the toilet. I don't know how long that phase lasted- maybe a few weeks? Don't worry, it wasn't long. My parents managed to convince me that flushing the toilet is necessary.

So when the orthodontist told me I'd have to wear the retainer every night for the rest of my life, I was highly suspicious. Was this one of those rules that I would naively treat with total seriousness, only to have people laugh at me for "taking everything too literally"? What if I happened to stop by the orthodontist's office 5 years later- say, when my sister had braces- and somehow let it slip to the receptionist that I was still wearing the retainer every night- would she excitedly tell all the other receptionists and staff, "Wow, you guys, this girl is STILL WEARING HER RETAINER EVERY NIGHT! How adorable!" And they would all gather 'round and tell me how good I was- but the real message would be "wow, we didn't expect you to ACTUALLY keep wearing it, like we said. How strange!"

I never thought I would keep wearing my retainer for my whole life. All throughout middle school and high school, I told myself, oh when I go to college, I'll probably stop.

Went to college. Brought the retainer. Still wore it every night. (Well, skipped a night here or there, but basically yeah, every night.)

Went to grad school. Moved into my own apartment. Still wearing the retainer.

Got on a plane and moved all the way around the world, to China. Brought the retainer. Still wore it every night.

And then somehow, I stopped. I don't remember how. Just got out of the habit.

AND YOU GUYS. Now there is a gap between my two top front teeth. YEAH. I wore that retainer almost every night for 10 years. Then quit wearing it for like, 1 or 2 years. And my teeth moved.

Turns out the retainer actually did matter. It wasn't just an arbitrary rule. Back when I was little, everything was about rules- there were all these things that I was supposed to do, and I did them because those were the rules. I didn't really think about the reasons behind the rules very much. But as an adult, I don't exactly have rules that are imposed on me- I get to choose what I do, and I base my decisions on the expected outcomes of various options. I don't have to clean my apartment- there's no rule. But if I don't clean it, there is cat hair everywhere. So I have to find the equilibrium point between how much I dislike sitting in cat hair, and how much I dislike vacuuming. It's my decision. There's no "rule."

And now that I have this gap between my teeth, it's my decision what to do about it. I decided to get braces again. I weighed factors like how much I dislike having a gap, how it will keep getting worse if I don't do anything, the amount of pain involved with having braces, etc. I wouldn't say "you need to wear your retainer because I quit wearing mine and then my teeth moved and I had to get braces again." No, I don't "have to" get braces. This is my decision.

Blah. Yeah. So that's kind of a huge pain. The point is, sometimes people's teeth move, so you should really listen to your orthodontist and keep wearing that retainer. Not because it's a rule, but because it's pretty easy to put in a retainer every night, compared with the amount of money and pain that it takes if your teeth move and then you choose to have them moved back to the right places.

And also, I'm doing this in China. Which means this whole "living in China" thing isn't some silly phase I'm going through before I start my real life- no, I'm making important medical decisions right here and right now- this is my real life. (I go to an international hospital for all my health care stuff. Everyone is super-professional, they all speak English, and they wash their hands ALL THE TIME like doctors and nurses are supposed to. I've had a few pretty bizarre experiences in Chinese hospitals and yeah, not doing that any more. International hospitals from now on. Oh and by the way, in China, the doctors are all at the hospital, that's where you go for your normal doctor's appointments and everything. When I use the word "hospital" don't imagine it means there's some super-serious problem.) But I guess, since I'm thinking about this, it means even after living here for 2 and a half years (and studying Chinese for 6 years) I'm still a little worried that it's just a phase and I'll "get over it" at some point. Hmm.

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