Daughter braces for a smile

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Becca has braces.

It's one of those rites of passage that many children endure.

Growing up, I managed to avoid braces. As I recall, my dentist said I had a big mouth. My family certainly will attest to that.

My sister ended up with braces. She wasn't happy that I had such an expansive mouth.

At any rate, my oldest daughter now has to cope with braces. An informational brochure from the orthodontist refers to braces as an "appliance." For a minute, I thought I'd be reading about refrigerators.

But thankfully a refrigerator won't fit in Becca's mouth.

Mankind has always experienced dental problems. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians used various remedies, including pulling teeth.

Early civilizations even developed gold dental bridges. In the Middle Ages, dentistry was practiced by jewelers and barbers.

Imagine getting a trim and your teeth pulled all at the same time.

Traveling tooth pullers made a living in the 1700s, although I'm sure their customers weren't too excited about it.

It's not surprising that we Americans take so much interest in our teeth. We've been trying to overcome our toothless past.

The teeth of the American colonists of the 1600s and 1700s were viewed as the world's worst. Poor diet and a lack of brushing caused many colonists to lose at least half of their teeth before the age of 20.

And none of them were hockey players.

Modern dentistry first took shape in the mid-1800s with the introduction of general anesthetics to dull the pain of surgery.

At one time, cocaine was used to block pain sensations in the lower jaw.

By 1900, dental drills had become widespread in the United States, allowing more Americans to fear the dentist's chair.

When I was a child, going to the dentist was a dreaded event. It wasn't really that painful, it just looked like it would be.

I remember thinking the dentist's office looked like a torture chamber with that massive dental chair. As a boy, I thought it seemed terribly big.

These days, the decor in dental offices resembles more that of cruise ships than the Spanish Inquisition.

Besides, we have world terrorism to worry about. By comparison, having a few teeth pulled seems like a minor distraction.

It also helps that we have the National Hockey League, which has allowed the average American to see just how bad he or she would look without teeth.

Fortunately, modern dentistry has improved on braces. They no longer look or act like weapons except in that James Bond movie.

Still, there's no getting around some pain.

Becca also has to have some teeth pulled.

So far she's handled it quite well, although I'm sure she would prefer virtual dentistry on the Internet to the real thing.

She does lament the prohibition against eating popcorn. But otherwise she seems to be coping with the situation.

It's one of those things she'll be able to record in her scrapbook.

When it's all over in a few years, she'll have plenty of memories and a huge desire to rush out and eat a bucket of popcorn.

But even with braces, Becca's smile still shines through.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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