By Tim Hayes

Each of my kids had braces.  Each of my kids needed to have their wisdom teeth pulled.  Retainers, tightenings, chipmunk cheeks, twilight sedation, and some loopy re-entries when that happy juice started to wear off.

We did our part – more than our part, if you ask me – helping one local oral surgeon’s cash flow over the years with the wisdom teeth extractions.  We got off a lot lighter with the braces, though.  My cousin, the orthodontist, put us on the family plan, and I will be buying him drinks at any bar he chooses for the rest of our natural lives in gratitude.

But why did all three of my children require all this toothy attention, when I never needed braces and never had one wisdom tooth even make an appearance?  Not one.  Ever.

In fact, my stupid mouth actually has two baby teeth that never left.  To this day, there’s a tooth on either side that I’ve had since toddlerdom.  They moved in when the neighborhood was brand new, and there’s been a lot of turnover.  They’ve made friends with the bigger folks on either side of them.  They haven’t looked for something better after all this time, and it looks like they have no intention of ever leavin’.  No adult teeth ever came in behind them, so they’ve been successful squatters for 50-plus years.

I think, when my parts were being put together before being born, they ran out of teeth – a couple grown-up samples, and four wisdoms – at the DNA store.  There are worse things.

Another anatomical anomaly.  While growing up, my two front teeth had a gap between them so big, it looked like the Batcave.  Adam West could have driven the Batmobile right through the front of my face.

Here’s the difference between dental care in 1967 versus 2017, though.  If I were a seven-year-old kid today, there’d be no question about getting braces.  There’d be so much metal in my mouth, I’d look like I belonged on an MTV rap video.  I could pick up radio from Saskatoon.  With every sneeze, garage doors in a two-mile radius would open inexplicably.  Orthodontists in 2017 would be breaking down the door for a shot at my David Letterman-like dental Grand Canyon.

In time, my Mom talked with our dentist – an older, no-nonsense gentleman named Dr. Ratchinski or something (this was a long time ago) – about narrowing the gap, as it were.  This dentist had been around a long, long time, and was not about to ship me off to some high-flyin’ orthodontist.

“All of his other teeth are right where they should be,” he declared.  “It’s just those two front ones.  So here’s what we’re going to do.”  He rummaged around in an adjacent room, came back and placed a tiny object in my hand, no bigger than a dime, if that.  A tiny rubber band – but one that had very little “give” to it.  It took a lot to stretch it, in other words.

“Now listen, Sonny.  You put this around the outside of those two front teeth every day,” he told me.  “Push it up as high against your gums as you can.  Nobody will be able to see it.  You do this every day for a year, and your teeth will be perfect.”

And you know something?  It worked like a charm.  It felt weird at first, but I learned how to move it up and down with my tongue, which gave me something to do when class got boring, if nothing else.

The point is, there’s no school like the old school.  For the price (free!) of a handful of “gum bands,” as we called them, this neighborhood dentist saved my folks thousands in bills for braces.  He relied on tension and time, instead of big-ticket tinsel.

How many other practices and products could be replaced with simpler, easier, less expensive options?  More than we realize, is my bet.  Thanks, Doc.  Been smiling ever since.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes