I Can’t Believe I’m Getting Braces


this is actually my skull!

I recently told a friend that I’m getting braces and I thought she’d make some comment about how braces are for kids and I’m too old. Instead she said, “Wow! That’s a lot of progress for you! I never thought you’d ever do something like that!”
Which made no sense to me, because, of course I’d do something like that. But because she knows I’m an herbalist, she thinks that I would never use mainstream techniques. And it’s true – I do avoid pharmaceuticals, tests, and invasive procedures whenever possible.

But the thing is, herbs can’t do everything.

If you need heart bypass surgery, for example, I don’t have a flower for that. There’s no root that’s going to fix that problem for you. What I DO have is a thorough understanding of how someone gets to that point, and a lot of skill in making life adaptations after the fact so that the situation doesn’t repeat itself, but there are some things that just need to be repaired at a structural level.

Similarly, if someone has chronic lower back pain, most likely, there is a structural problem. There are plants that can relax muscles, and plants that can manage pain. But the problem isn’t going to go away until that person really figures out how to change how they move their body (or don’t) through a day. This is why I’ve spent so much time studying Katy Bowman’s work: herbs are just one piece of the puzzle.

my lower teeth tilt inward

To get personal about my particular puzzle: my gums recede.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been managing that with herbs high in tannins, a fairly clean diet, and brushing well. That worked fairly well for quite some time, but in the last 3 years or so, it just wasn’t doing the trick anymore. I started getting cavities in the softer un-enameled parts of teeth now exposed because the gumline kept moving. The first time it happened, I wanted to avoid the gum-graft surgery that is commonly done, and instead I just had that spot filled. But every year another cavity would happen and finally I started to think I might have to consider the graft after all.

It was right about then that my daughter got braces. Her canine teeth weren’t coming in properly, and our dentist said that if we didn’t get them, she’d have trouble with her jawbone as an adult. So we headed over to the Harvard School of Orthodontics, since we were told that the work there is very good and half the price of a private practice – both true! The attending orthodontist was patient every week as I asked her ten million questions about jaw structure and alignment, and every other thing I could think of. It turns out that this particular orthodontist, Dr. Sue Lee, had a background in neurobiology and in bone health before going into orthodontics, and she thinks about the teeth and jaw in relation to the function of the rest of the body – and not just a pretty smile (though that’s a good thing too!) – so I knew we were going to get along great!

One day she mentioned that if I got braces, it would help my breathing, improve my sleep, and reduce the fluid in my ears – though I’d never told her that those things were issues for me. She definitely had my attention! She said that she could see that the way my jaw was positioned, it was impinging my airway which was causing sleep apnea (and on asking Ryn later, he did say that I have a lot of “disrupted breathing” when I sleep, though he was careful not to say that I snore!), and pinching my eustachian tubes, causing fluid buildup. Well, wasn’t that interesting! I signed up to have pictures, molds, and x-rays done – not because I planned to actually get braces, but because I wanted to know more about how my jaw structure was contributing to all this. (And to be honest, I was wondering whether I could just do some kind of exercise to move my jaw down!)

I don’t think that those issues alone would have been enough to convince me to go through with it, but once all was said and done, it turned out there was one more factor: my bottom teeth all tilt inward towards my tongue, instead of sitting straight up and down. Because of this, every time I bite down, the force on the lower teeth is literally pushing my gums into recession! All the astringent tea in the world can’t stop physics, so this explained why over time, my herbal and dietary tricks weren’t working anymore. It was also very interesting to learn that if I’d had the gum graft, it wouldn’t have lasted: physics will impact grafted gums the same as original ones.

So, braces it is.

I’m excited at the prospect of not having any more gum-line cavities, and Ryn is excited that I’ll be able to breathe better at night (I’m excited about that too!). The fluid in my ears is a problem I have been able to totally manage between getting rid of dairy (a frequent contributor to ear infection), taking Ground Ivy any time my ears felt achey, and using warmed onion slices (a trick I learned while I was living in Russia) anytime an infection actually sets in. It’ll be nice not to do that anymore too, but that one I could have lived with. And if I’m completely honest, I am looking forward to no longer having that annoying gap at the base of my two front teeth!

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), by Peter O’Connor

So far in this adventure, I’ve learned that 25% of the people getting braces these days are over the age of 40, so I suppose I won’t be alone! And I’ll be putting the experience to good use: I’ll be creating an online webinar series to share great herbal allies for supporting the process of braces – reducing gum inflammation, managing pain, helping things to stay mobile when the teeth are supposed to be moving and helping the bone to grow strong again at the end of the process, once everything is in place.

I’ll also be looking at strategies for eating when your mouth hurts, foods that are nutritious and soothing, and handy tricks for macro-nutrient balance – ie, how to make sure you’re getting enough protein and vegetables when all you want to eat is soft squishy mashed potatoes!

I’m not a fan of fluoride, but it’s strongly recommended while wearing braces and if you go that route, it turns out there are some herbs to help support your thyroid from collateral damage and I’ll include information all about them! I’m not a fan of ibuprofen either, but there have been a few days that my daughter has really wanted it. The problem is that NSAIDs cause gut lining irritation and ultimately damage – but there’s an herb for that too! So even if you do need to reach for some OTC pain killers, I’ll be including herbs and formulas to repair the damage afterwards! And there are some great herbs that help to reduce muscle tension in the neck and head, which my daughter has complained of when she gets tighter elastic bands.

Herbs won’t set my teeth upright, but they WILL help make the next 18-24 months much more bearable, and hopefully more successful too!

If you’ve got braces, let me know in the comments what the biggest annoyance was for you and I’ll be sure to include it in the series!

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