by Christopher Piehler

I recently entered month 6 of a projected 18-month orthodontic treatment. My teeth have definitely moved, so I’ve gotten past my initial “It’s not working!” freakout. And I still have rosy memories of the winter day when my orthodontist showed me a thrilling 3-second movie of how my odd occlusion would morph into a smile fit for a television meteorologist.

But I have to admit that my initial excitement about my orthodontic adventure has faded, and having to brush my teeth three times per day has gotten tedious enough that I’ve taken up my old habit of doing math in my head. So I can tell you that I’ll spend approximately 3 days and 10 hours performing various oral hygiene tasks during the course of my treatment.

And the truth is, as I write this, it’s getting harder for me to imagine that my mouth will ever be anything other than the slightly less-crooked jumble that it is today.

Just to add to the disarray, I’m also several months into the process of repainting my bedroom, another aesthetic improvement that I wish I could fast-forward to the “after” picture. So I lie wishing for my weatherman smile in a room that reeks of spackle and primer, where my furniture is shrouded in drop cloths, and the only new paint on the walls is a series of sample colors that are either too blue or not blue enough. I have seriously considered moving to avoid having to finish the job.

My message to you is this: Keep an eye out for the patient doldrums. They set in after the first few months but before the halfway point of treatment. If you notice a patient’s compliance starting to slack off during this crucial period, it’s not because we’re lazy; it’s just that the end seems so far away.

Most orthodontists have some sort of celebration for banding and debanding days, but for patients like me, the beginning and the end are exciting enough on their own. It’s the middle that’s hard. What we need more than the song or the goody bag when we get our braces off is the occasional pep talk about why we should keep them on, a few encouraging words to reassure us that our teeth are moving and that, if we keep doing our part, we’ll get the smile we signed up for.