There are things no one tells you when you’re young.
Certain details are conveniently edited out, details that will find you welling up in front of a counselor in 20 years time. Some are bald-faced lies like, you’re beautiful just the way you are, or life is not just about looks, beauty, or the perfect smile.
Then you grow up.
There are lots of things they don’t tell you.
Like the real price of orthodontic work.
I once knew a boy that cut off his braces with bolt-cutters. His parents replaced them three times, and every time, with a rusty pair of bolt cutters from the metalwork room behind the school (we’d watch, panting with admiration) he would brutally wrench off the orthodontists $500 an hour work.
It’s possibly the unkindest cut for a 40 year old couple with a $500,000 mortgage and three kids at private school. But when you’re 13 all you care about is when will Andrew Simons work up the courage to try kissing you, how good you will be at said kissing, concealing your terror of cooler people and whether it is more conspicuous to wear a training bra or nothing at all. These are life’s crises. The last thing you want is braces on top.
The moment comes when, face obscured beneath sunglasses only extreme sportspeople would consider fashionable, the plastic gloves of the orthodontist pinching your face, when the assessment is made that yes, your teeth are rubbish. And you suddenly feel like a complete and utter failure. But you attempt to mouth the phrase, Please God NO! around the fingers inside your head at Mother, who is clinging tightly to her handbag and shuffling to the very farthest edge of her chair, breathless with excitement at witnessing her child’s flaws and their price.
This is it. This is the moment that separates the average parent from the morally flexible true financial genius.
Your child doesn’t want them and they cost six thousand dollars.
Darling, look at her. She’s got good lips. A nice neck. Cascading hair. Who cares. She seems very intelligent. The world will be different. She probably doesn’t want to be a newsreader anyway. She’s bound to be a scientist or a neurosurgeon. You don’t need perfect teeth to be a neurosurgeon. It’s probably a negative – pretty girls wouldn’t be as respected in that industry I’m sure. No one will ever notice that she only ever smiles with her lips when she’s wearing a surgical mask. No one likes a horsey tooth-faced smiler anyway.
Now, what would be your preference? Hawaii or the Maldives? I’m thinking Maldives.
Which leaves me sitting, 15 years later, in an uncomfortable vinyl chair. In the reflection of the alien-headed lamp above I can see my face obscured by a pair of black sunglasses that still resemble 80’s Bolles. The harsh light manages to show up every red dot, every imperfection in my skin. In my mouth is some sort of pink sticky chemical compound that dries in seconds in a scarily unnatural way. The orthodontist is a blonde woman with perfect teeth who always seems unnervingly calm.
She continues to talk while the pink stuff dries.
“…it is interesting, isn’t it, the way the traffic is so much better when the kids are on School Holidays. They should get a bus to service the area. Just one bus would make an enormous difference I think. Don’t you?”
All dentists have this intelligent habit of asking you completely pointless questions while their fists are jammed in your mouth and clamps are wrenching your lips back behind your ears. Nodding and making noises not unlike a 3 month old baby gagging on its own vomit seems to give them enough encouragement to relentlessly continue the conversation.
“…yes I think so too. And you’re right, it would be so easy to organise a bus.”
I wasn’t aware I had communicated anything other than gargling spit. All this for the bargain price of six thousand dollars. But six thousand is but a dribble on the chin of the world of cosmetic dentistry.
Typical Fees for Cosmetic Dentistry Procedures
Cosmetic Procedure Fee
Porcelain veneers $1,380 per tooth
All-ceramic crowns $1,380 per tooth
Gum lift procedure $295 per tooth
3-unit All-ceramic bridge $4,140
Two stage implant supported all-ceramic crown $2,360 per tooth
6 porcelain veneers $8,280
12 All-ceramic crowns $15,000
Gum lift procedure and 10 all-ceramic crowns $14,000
Full oral rehabilitation with all-ceramic crowns and bridges (24 units) $28,800
Enough to wipe the smile off anyone’s face.
The orthodontist is still talking, “…this will feel a little uncomfortable…”
The smiling blonde assassin now wrenches my mouth open even wider as she peels off the pink chemical explosive she has had drying inside my head as I dribble and mumble in protest. I gargle blue liquid out of a little plastic cup and dribble some down my chin.
This is dignity. This is perfection in progress. I close my eyes and think of Gwen Stefani, of Grace Kelly, of Tom Cruise, their perfect teeth proud billboards to their wealth; the heroic, gleaming testimony to success. You’re no one without perfect teeth. You’re nothing. Worthless. So what’s a few thousand dollars when it’s the value of beauty, of power, of all you’ve strived for since emerging mewling from the womb to begin a life of trying desperately to impress.
This is the true value of orthodontic work.
A package deal – self-esteem and a gum lift.
These are the things you learn as you grow up.
Deep down the parents knew it, a twinge of guilt in their stomaches as they lie sunning themselves on a disgustingly perfect beach, expensive cocktails pouring over their own perfect sets of teeth and down down down to the pits of their stomachs.
And now I learn it, swiping the VISA as the orthodontist appointment comes to an end. The little digital numbers on the EFTPOS machine flash before my eyes. So much money revolving around 30 little white bones.
The orthodontist smiles as she hands me my next appointment card. “Next time we’ll be removing four teeth,” she says sweetly.
Her smile looks like money.
As I leave I notice her black BMW X5 parked in the driveway and I think how the lies of the early years fade and one day we all abruptly wake up, smacking our heads on the low, overhanging beam of reality. Perhaps, if we’re not careful, we might even lose a few teeth in the impact.