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Brace Yourself 

Mike Werner - Guest Columnist
Posted 5/6/22

People often say, “One day we will look back at this and laugh.” When discussing my teenage years, however, we look back and say, “Was that real life?!”

I was a unique …

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Brace Yourself 


People often say, “One day we will look back at this and laugh.” When discussing my teenage years, however, we look back and say, “Was that real life?!”

I was a unique teenager, much in the same way that John Wayne Gacy was a unique birthday clown. I don't know what made these such challenging years, but they are worth a second look. To say my family life was toxic would be very inaccurate; my parents were both very smart and successful and my sister was valedictorian of her high school class. I, on the other hand, just spent 3 minutes making sure I spelled valedictorian correctly. One of the nights that shaped this troubled time occurred when I was 15 years old-- at a time of day when nothing bad ever happens… 3 a.m.  

I had been wearing braces on my teeth for at least 2 years and was getting very frustrated since there was zero timetable for when they would be removed. Let’s also throw in the caveat that I did not possess an overwhelming amount of patience at this time in my life. When asking my orthodontist when I would see the end of this facial calamity, he would say every single time, “Oh, it’s so hard to predict.”  

Finally I hit my breaking point. I was done. I was tired of all the rules. No hard candy, no popcorn, no gum, wear your rubber bands. So this fateful night while chewing gum and then having a Jolly Rancher… one of the brackets popped off. This was frustrating because this allegedly sets you back a month, and you need a new appointment to reattach it. But, clever lad that I was, I turned this setback into inspiration. If this one brace came off that easily, why am I relying on a trained and certified orthodontist to tend to my dental needs? Like Ben Franklin with the kite and the key, I was inspired and planned my next step of action.

Remember the opening of the show Doogie Howser? Yes, we are on the same topic by the way. In the intro about a young genius who becomes a doctor is the headline “14-year-old passes medical board”. Well I was 15, but it was time for dental surgery nonetheless. I didn't have a prep table, but I did know the tools of the trade. Flat head screwdriver, I believe that's the medical term, and a hammer.

Several taps and adjustments later, there was no longer a “we cannot predict when your braces will come off” diagnosis. They were off. To be clear, I was only able to remove the brackets and wire from the top row of teeth. After my years as a dental student, I determined that it would be best to leave the bottom row of braces on so I wouldn’t accidentally hammer the steel into my gum line. The more you know!

I still remember pulling the intrusive wire from my top teeth. I felt like a new person. I ran my tongue across my teeth for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. When I was brought to my next appointment the assistant was bewildered by my actions. “You could have ruined your teeth!” Pssh… yeah ok. I obviously was well versed in the field. My teeth look great today and I owe it all to my steady hand and the friendly staff at Home Depot. My shell-shocked mother would soon be ordering vodka and hair dye in bulk.

Twelve years later I was working as a bank teller and a very flustered customer came to my window. I soon recognized him as my former orthodontist. He was shuffling through a pile of documents, and I said, “Oh! You were my orthodontist.” Unfazed, he did not look up and stated he had treated thousands of patients. I replied, “I was the one who took his braces off by himself.” The retired doctor looked up and his face said it all. In a world full of forgettable faces, be the one people will always remember.


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