Thursday, March 5, 2020

Mona Lisa in Braces, the Palatal Expander, and a Dental Emergency

Let me say this straight up-- I am not a dentist, nor do I play one on TV.  So a couple of nights ago, when my son suddenly cried out about 10 minutes after going to bed, "Something is in my mouth!" I was a little panicked.


Let me back up a little bit.  My son is in the laborious and painful process of having his mouth and palate expanded so that his next set of teeth can come in, and if all goes according to plan, somewhere around 2026  he will have perfect teeth and an All American smile, not a crooked British smile.  (which would be made more paradoxical by the fact that we are not British.  I apologize to Brits who read this, but let's face it-- your dental history reputation leaves much to be desired.)

Mona Lisa never had braces, if she did she'd have a
toothy smile and not be so enigmatic.
I never had braces-- my parents apparently decided that my smile was close enough to American that it would have to do.  My teeth aren't 100% straight, and I have a small overbite, but not enough for me to have endured the lasting physical and psychological pain that is braces.  And listen, smiling with your mouth closed is enigmatic, damned it!  Does the Mona Lisa show her teeth?  She does not.  It's probably because she didn't have braces either because she was afraid of the pain.  (Or they had not yet been invented.) 

The pain is probably not that bad, but I never went through it, so I don't really know.

My wife, on the other hand, did have braces, and my son's mouth apparently was inherited from that side of the family, so, the genetic lottery being what it is, he's in for braces.
If the Mona Lisa had braces.  (via Pinterest)


The first step along the braces journey is to expand the space inside his mouth. He's had a bottom expander in for a while, which is a removable piece of plastic and metal that caused him great consternation for the first few days he had it, but now it causes him great delight as he plays with it, popping it on and off while doing complicated lingual gymnastics.  Every few days we were tightening it using a little plastic tool, and now we are tightening it once per week.

The top expander (otherwise known as the palate expander) is not removable.  It's glued in place, and designed to be turned every day, which means that just before bed, my son has to lie down and dislocate his jaw as   I (or my wife) shine a flashlight inside his mouth, stick a little tool into the center of the metal contraption at the roof of his mouth, and turn it a full turn (which is really a quarter turn.)  We have to do this every day!

This top expander was installed about 10 days ago, and I wasn't there when the orthodontist showed my wife exactly what to do.  I was at a funeral in Rhode Island.  The next day I came back, and my wife was at a nighttime meeting, and I was supposed to do it, so I looked it up on youtube, watched a video, and did it no problem!

Here's one of the three videos I watched before attempting the operation

"Wow!"I thought to myself.  "Maybe my superpower is dentistry!"

The next few days my wife was responsible for the turning, and then I went back out of town for a few days, and then I came home on a Sunday, and she left the next day to go to Florida to check in on her mom who had recently had surgery.  "No problem," I thought.  "I can turn this thing.  I've watched the video!"  I turned it on Monday without incident. On Tuesday, I turned it again without incident.  Well, until about 10 minutes later, when my son called out.


Trying to look inside my son's mouth.
It's dark in there!
He came out into the living room and he spits out a hard piece of something that looked like a tooth, and there were two pieces.  I freaked out.  I immediately thought-- "Oh my god-- the video was wrong.  My superpower  is not dentistry, it's cranking that little lever inside his mouth, and I must have cranked it so hard that his tooth couldn't take it."  Followed by "These are small, maybe they are baby teeth!"  I have him open up his mouth, and right under the expander, his tooth seems jagged and sharp.  There's no blood.  He's complaining of pain, and I do the only thing I can do in these circumstances.

I call my wife.

Yes, I know she's in Florida, and she can't do anything.  But I wasn't at the meeting where they installed the appliance.  I didn't hear them give the "What to do in case of orthodontic emergency" speech that she did.  And I apparently don't know the power of my fingers, since I just crushed a piece of tooth using the power of my bare hands, I needed to know if I needed to take him to the hospital right now, call the orthodontist, or just wait until morning.

One of my son's favorite anime series features a character
with dental super powers!
We face-timed so that she could try to see in his mouth, which was not very easy to do.  As I said, she was 1600 miles away, so really there was not much she could do. She said maybe it was the glue that held it on there, but I could see the glue in his mouth, which was blue, and this was tooth-colored.  She told me to go to the orthodontist in the morning, which is what I was leaning to do anyway.

I called the orthodontist after hours to see what time they were open (8 am) and emailed his teacher to say he'd be arriving to school tardy due to a dental emergency.    I then called the orthodontist on call, and got a phone number that was all in Chinese with no English explanation.  The hell with it, I thought.  He's going in tomorrow morning.


The next morning we're up early.  His breakfast is all soft foods, and so his lunch, just in case. I  Apple sauce, yogurt, pudding, etc.  He's complaining a little, but it's not that bad.

At the orthodontist, the dental assistant looks inside his mouth and smiles, and then tells me the words that as a husband I never want to hear and as a father, I was delighted to hear.

"Your Wife Was Right."


Dang.  Busted.

 It was the glue, that sometimes breaks free.  Apparently, some of the glue is tooth-colored, and it can get brittle and break.  It's very common.  Of course, I didn't know that.  I had the dental assistant show me how to turn the apparatus, and give me the once over twice on all the other information that I need to know as a proper parent of a Dental Cyborg. 

And he arrived at school at 9:30 am, so he didn't miss any academic subjects!

Crisis averted.  For now.

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