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Pain and Strife Ortho: What I learned from a chainlink fence; in my mouth

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

My wife has worked in orthodontics for many years. Shortly after she and I married she began dropping hints that I could benefit from braces. These suggestions never worked because I was not concerned with the “straightness” of my teeth. At the time, I had a firm belief orthodontics was nothing more than a cosmetic industry. Meaning, the sole purpose of braces could be found within a desire for a bright radiant smile free of crooked or craggy teeth; I was wrong. With time, my sweet wife changed her tactics. One morning she simply suggested my teeth were less likely to break off if they were in the “right” place; this made perfect sense.

Perhaps her new strategy requires some context. My father is in his late 70’s. He’s taller and stouter than I ever was, or will be. With an understanding that strength includes emotional, and intellectual, capacity; in addition to physical strength; I can say my dad is quit literally the strongest man I have ever met. He is a Vietnam veteran, he served 27 years as a fireman, he sired 8 children, he's been married to the same woman, my mom, for nearly 60 years, and he has an insatiable green thumb. This last talent, the ability to grow anything, led to greenhouse business built from the ground up.

For almost as many years as my dad fought fires, he also owned and operated a wholesale business which grew bedding plants, vegetable, and perennial stock from seed. He then sold these plant items to nurseries who resold them to the public. Because of my father, and his desire to grow things, I learned a very stark work ethic from a very early age. Because of my father, I worked after school, during weekends, and through nearly every school break. I was basically raised on a farm; although our efforts were centered around tender plants germinated during the winter hours; so they could be sold at the break of spring. I say my father is one of the strongest men I have ever met because of the years where I saw a tenacity and grit which solved very complex problems. Think about it, my parents intentionally bore 8 children into this world. In order to take care of his family, he worked full-time as a fireman and more than full-time as a nursery man. He rarely took a day off and he rarely lost his temper. He was a model of poise and tact. And most important, he allowed the sometimes difficult lessons of life to simply happen because he knew this is where the greatest learning occurs.

Through the years, I noticed my father often carried his stress internally. I cannot think of a single time when my dad complained of those things he was required to do. He simply grit his teeth and got to work. This is why his teeth began breaking off. As I write this, the smile of my father has been marred as a result of grinding his teeth to cope with the stress of life. Knowing I am much like my father, in regard to my willingness to internally endure many of life’s burdens, my wife suggested braces would create an environment where I was less likely to break my teeth during stressful moments. This argument worked.

I love my dad, and all he taught me, but I can see a real benefit of having teeth through the end of my life. So, I agreed to a consultation; later leaving with a quart of ice cream and a new set of shiny braces. The ice cream was meant to sooth my sore mouth which was suffering because of what felt like a chainlink fence between my teeth and lips. To say the first several weeks was miserable cannot properly describe the difficulty of braces. I complained to my lovely wife who simply suggested she tried to tell me braces would suck. In fact, I do recall a time or two where she said braces were hard to deal with; but how could I ever fully understand how miserable every mouth movement would be based on a few words attempting to describe discomfort. The short answer simply states there is no way. The long answer includes an understanding that as a human species we all learn best by doing. In short, this means I can never fully understand any concept unless I have direct experience. Meaning, my wife and I could have spent hours discussing exactly how new braces feel; but until I allowed braces to be cemented to my teeth I would never fully understand. Heres’ what’s interesting, after time my mouth learned to ignore what originally felt like a monolithic disaster; with time, my mouth simply accepted a foreign body and I began to forget I had consented to braces.

If we look deeper we can find some strong life lessons from an experience such as braces. But first, let’s look at the purpose of braces. My wife suggested my teeth were not where they should be; Dr. Payne affirmed this outcome during my initial consultation. In this, my teeth were not properly aligned. This truth exists despite any argument that states my teeth grew the way my genetics dictated. Meaning, the misalignment of my teeth is a simple fact of life. Some would say this is the way I am; why should I seek to change? In fact, this is exactly what I thought for most of my life. It was not until I chose too listen to folks, who have a far greater understanding of teeth, I learned I could avoid a problem if my teeth were in balance. In this, my wife’s intention of getting me into braces had nothing to do with cosmetics; it had everything to do with teeth not being subject to excessive wear because they were misaligned.

Think about it this way, proper maintenance of a car includes steering and tire alignments. The reason is simple, when things are out of balance they are subject to greater wear and tear; which means things don’t last as long as they should. It’s a simple concept which speaks of balance within two or more objects. For example, my wife broke her leg last year. She agreed to surgery to repair the break in order to maintain balance within her ankle. Without the surgery, she was at a higher risk of broken bones healing in such a way her ankle would become misaligned. If this was allowed to occur; her ability to stand, walk, and run would be greatly compromised. The purpose of the surgery was to place a metal plate along the broken bone in order to ensure the bone would heal properly; or to ensure her ankle was in alignment while her bones healed. It’s the same concept with braces. Just because nature caused my teeth to grow out of proper alignment does not meanI am simply forced to endure this outcome. In fact, the way all our mouths work includes a concept where pressure can loosen teeth so they can be moved into alignment. Within time, teeth can remain aligned without braces.

If we are willing to look, we can see all sorts of parallels between physical and emotional concepts. For example, I was born anxious. In fact, anxiety created a significant barrier which made it difficult to engage in school and other important activities. With time, and effort, I learned to find balance with anxiety which allowed me to become fully engage in life. This concept is nearly the same as moving my teeth into alignment so they wear longer. When I finally recognized my emotions were not in alignment, the reason I was feeling stress, I could seek a remedy that created balance. This balance is the reason I can say 90% of my life now is lived anxiety free. With time, my teeth will become more aligned and they will last longer; just like my wife’s ankle will last longer because she consented to a surgery. By finding balance within emotions I will last longer because the stress that caused me to shut me down no longer stands in the way of my success.

You too can find balance within both physical and emotional outcomes. Physical is often as easy as enduring the pain of braces; emotion acts nearly the same way. In a sense, learning about the origins of emotion can act like braces, or even a surgery, which creates balance. To learn more about emotion you can join us during one of our community live-streaming events.


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