It’s rather odd rereading my prior post on getting braces. Not least because it was written four years ago: I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it had been that long! But also because of the “it should only last about five months” bit. My memory tells me that, even at the time, I’d assumed that was the most optimistic possible estimate, and that it would quite possibly take a bit longer than that; if so, though, that doubt isn’t in the post.

And yes, it took longer than that, and by more than a bit. Part of which turns out to be a matter of definition: it turns out that, when my orthodontist talked about how long it took, it meant how long it would take for me to not have to come to the office regularly. But even after that, there’s a long period when you’re wearing a retainer regularly, and according to him, you should continue to wear your retainer occasionally indefinitely.

Which is, to me, an important distinction: there’s a big difference between “you’ll be done in five months” and “you’ll have to do this for the rest of your life”! I still haven’t figured out to what extent the latter is true: there are lots of people who wore braces as kids who don’t wear a retainer as an adult, but then again kids’ mouths change a lot more than adults’ mouths anyways. So who knows how that will really play out. I’m not mad at my orthodontist for this—I think it’s simply something that’s so much part of his base understanding of the situation that he didn’t think to mention it—but it wasn’t part of my base understanding of the situation.

That wasn’t the only problem, though. As I mentioned in the original post, I only had braces on my lower teeth. And, at the time, I idly wondered if that would be a problem or not; but I couldn’t imagine that my orthodontist wouldn’t be aware of that (and hence veto it as a possibility) if a single set of braces wouldn’t work.

It turns out, however, that it didn’t work at all. I got a set of molds that progressively straightened my lower teeth; and, about halfway through, they started hitting my upper teeth a bit. In retrospect, I should have applied my iterative development skills (or my “reverting to a previous good state” source control skills) and stopped right then, reversing the molds until my teeth felt okay. Instead, we kept on going, trying to alter the molds somewhat to solve the problem, with the result that I ended up with straight lower teeth, a rather uncomfortable bit, and no way to go back.

So I got braces on my upper teeth. Wire braces, not invisalign; my orthodontist charged me only a token amount (which is more than he should have charged, but not enough for me to argue), but still: not at all what I signed up for, in more ways than one.

And I was wearing those for something like three years. Which was a drag; not awful, not actively painful (most of the time), but not at all what I wanted. And it turned out that my orthodontist didn’t have any good way of telling whether or not my lower and upper jaw matched well! When I complained, he could do some amount of figuring out exactly where they were hitting badly and adjust uncomfortably: but he apparently couldn’t tell at all that they were hitting badly in the first place. So it took week after week after week of fiddling to get things right.

The upshot: my teeth feel okay now; I’m having to wear retainers more than I’d like, but at least the braces are off. And the retainer is definitely necessary: for a month after the braces came off, I could tell immediately if I’d had the retainer off for any length of time, and while I now don’t feel too bad if I don’t wear the retainer during the day, it still seems like a better idea than not to keep it on most of the time.

So, clearly a mistake. In retrospect, it was always a mistake: even if things had gone perfectly, it would have only barely been worth it, I think. But there were also a lot more ways that things could go wrong than I realized, starting from the basic understanding of what it meant to be done. I’m sure my dentist office and orthodontist wasn’t acting out of bad faith or anything: but all of us wanted to find a way to deal with my lower front teeth, and I think we were approaching it more from a position of “we want something to work, and this seems plausible” rather than a serious cost-benefit analysis.

And I will say: if you’re an adult and considering getting braces yourself for whatever reason, I would recommend thinking twice about it. Certainly don’t do the weird thing I did of having braces on only half your teeth; but also do a better job than I did of understanding the time commitment involved.

While I’m on the subject of “mistakes I’ve made when paying other people to do work”, I guess I’ll get another cautionary tale out of the way. Earlier this year, we had work done on our front stoop, replacing it and propping up the foundation. Which is great: our front door closes well now!

As part of the work, a sprinkler next to the door had to be moved. Which we’d identified going in, and accounted for. Unfortunately, when the rest of the work was done, the sprinkler was notably askew. Which I didn’t worry about too much: I told the contractor, and he said that he’d look at it.

Which he did; but it took a month and a half, and a half-dozen e-mails and phone calls for that last little bit to be taken care of. In retrospect, again, I was being silly: California law is very clear that you don’t have to pay the final installment of your contracting bill until the work is finished, and I simply shouldn’t have written that last check. I was assuming that the contractor was a straight-up guy, since he’d seemed that way; and I actually still think that he was, but his priorities changed a bit once the main work was over, so while he always intended to take care of the last little bit, it wasn’t top on his list of things to worry about.

Live and learn; fortunately, both lessons came to a reasonable resolution, with more annoyance than actual harm in the process.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.