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Pearly Whites

April 6, 2016
I went through 7 years of braces, countless (borderline medieval torture) procedures, and one jaw surgery to achieve a "perfect" set of teeth. I often sit and wonder -- was it worth it?

In Grade 2, I got braces for the first time. A few months ago, I had them taken off for the third (and final) time…I’m 23 years old. I went through 7 years of braces, countless (borderline medieval torture) procedures, and one jaw surgery to achieve a “perfect” set of teeth. But I often sit and wonder — was it worth it?

Don’t get me wrong, my perfect pearly chiclets give me confidence and I am very grateful for them (Thank you Mom & Dad), but what is the obsession with perfect teeth? Where did it come from? Why is it an expectation for us to go through our teen years as metal mouths??


Visuals by Ema Walters

In the 80’s, orthodontics began marketing aesthetic concerns as a medical necessity, associating straight teeth with being healthy and anything else with being unhealthy — this isn’t always the case. Many orthodontists claim poor bites can cause increased crowding and the filing down of teeth; however, some studies suggest orthodontia might have some damaging effects including tooth decay and enamel decalcification, especially for those with poorer hygiene.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, between 1982 and 2008 the number of Americans wearing braces roughly DOUBLED. I won’t boil the rise of braces down to just a marketing ploy, but basically. Parents are convinced that if they are good parents, they will get their kids braces. You would never hear someone say “I want braces,” it’s always “I NEED braces.” We are convinced that braces are a necessity, not a want. Now that is some damn good marketing. *slow clap*


The majority of people I know have either had braces or, if they didn’t, wish they had. According to an article by NYMag, 80% of North American teens are currently in orthodontic treatment and the average age of their first visit is 7 years old. When I was in high school, most people had them at some point. Braces were like all the “expensive” brands (TNA, Abercrombie, etc.); they weren’t cute at all but we all wanted them to be cool and basically prove that we could afford them. Perfect teeth are a sign you got the $$$. We assume that anyone with bad teeth just doesn’t have the money to fix them (obviously not true!!!). Celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Jewel are constantly defending their choice not to mess with their ~completely natural~ smiles.

In North America, we have high, unattainable beauty standards (huge duh). There is this perfect Hollywood image we are taught to reach for, and we go to ridiculous lengths to get it.

There are countless surgeries that one can go through (boob, nose, butt, etc.), but jaw surgery was not one I was familiar with, let alone think I’d go through. Alas, after being convinced by numerous orthodontists that it was a necessary procedure, I gave in. This led to me having braces for the third time!! In talking to others about my trauma, I’ve realized it’s quite common (jaw surgery, but also having braces multiple times), and turns out everyone is getting jaw surgery, WHO KNEW?


I had surgery last year but I won’t touch too much on that (stay tuned for part two). At the time, my roommate was from Paris and she was like “WTF are you doing? What is with you people (North Americans) and teeth?” Europeans are not convinced, through “brilliant” media and marketing, that perfect smiles are important. Who knows, in 20 years, maybe we will be convinced of a new body part that needs changing, so I’m just going to leave you with a mash-up of my favourite words from Jewel’s article, “Sorry, Haters: My Teeth Don’t Need Fixing“- which is basically a poem: “I’ve fought hard through many years of ridicule to feel pretty despite my flaws […] Happiness and self-acceptance wouldn’t come overnight […] I had to define beauty for myself.”


Work Cited

Dan P., Lee. “America’s Obsession with Perfecting Its Teeth.” New York Magazine. 9 June 2015. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.

Kilcher, Jewel. “Sorry, Haters: My Teeth Don’t Need Fixing.” Redbook. 13 May 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.

Thomsen, Michael. “Braces, Pointless and Essential.” The Atlantic. 9 July 15. Web. 1 Apr. 16.