Yesterday I went to yet another orthodontist appointment where I got the good news that a miscreant tooth on my bottom row had moved 2 micromillimeters.
In 2015 I decided it was time to finally fix what nature messed up: some crowded and crooked teeth. Being an adult who sometimes speaks in public, I decided I wanted Invisalign. It took four appointments to find an orthodontist who would treat me correctly. Some wanted to remove a tooth to fix the crowding, another wanted me in (gasp!) head gear, one was too expensive, etc. Finally, a smiling man of about sixty gave me Invisalign.
It didn’t go well. I had an allergic reaction to the trays and was sick for days. Then they discovered it was the latex rubber bands that were causing the issues. Once we switched out the rubber bands, I was given the assignment to wear the trays 22 hours per day, and perform certain cleaning rituals before putting the trays back in.
The trays were very hard to wear. They hurt most of the time, and the rest of the time they felt too dirty to put back in and I had to trek back and forth to any available public restrooms to clean them, or else not put them in at all. They would inevitably get thrown out.
Then there was the self-control aspect of the situation. It was hard to wear them a full 22 hours, especially if I was participating in any social situation where I would have to talk. They gave me a silly lisp, so I usually left them in a case in my purse. At the end of the day, my supposed 22 hours would only add up to 10.
After a year of Invisalign, I began biting my tongue every time I tried to eat or talk. I bit it so hard once that I couldn’t eat for a day or so. I consulted my orthodontist and he determined that the trays weren’t fixing my bite like he wanted them to and we needed to go with braces.
More money, more pain. Braces had even more cleaning, maintenance and appointment requirements than Invisalign. I couldn’t even talk the first few days. I frequently woke up with wire cuts and tongue abrasions. I had to employ wax, topical pain killer and ointments.
There was never a single day when I wasn’t either bitterly uncomfortable or horribly in pain from these monsters.
Now, my teeth are almost straight. I have about six months left for treatment. It’s been an annoying journey. So when my orthodontist gleefully explained that that tooth had moved two micromillimeters, I did some math.
Approximately 20 visits to the orthodontist, who is 19 miles from my house, 18 from my work and 22 from my school. That’s approximately 11 hours of in-city driving and lost productivity. Combined with the appointment time (which averaged 1.5 hours each with waiting time and the long initial appointments) that adds up to 30 hours of lost time.
The Invisalign cost $4,300. Braces cost an additional $800
I estimate the units of pain to be X to the 4th power (I get a bit whiney about physical pain).
Over the last 18 months, I have spent approximately 360 hours cleaning my teeth (ten minutes, four times per day). I did that math a few times and yes, it is a horrifically huge amount of time. Could it really be 9 forty-hour work weeks? Just cleaning my teeth?
Result of all this effort? Two micromillimeters of bone movement.
Let’s pretend instead of teeth, this is a creative project or a business I had started. If I had been at it for two years, spent all that time and money and only saw that tiny movement, what would I do?
I’d likely consider quitting. I would likely reason that it wasn’t going to pay off.
I’d likely say the game is rigged, or that people like me don’t get that thing, or that other people are born with gifts that I’m not born with.
I might even start to feel somewhat desperate.
The reason why teeth straightening doesn’t make me feel the above emotions is simple. The orthodontist told me that I will get a payoff. He can even estimate (roundabouts) when that payoff will occur. He even showed me a computerized simulation of my teeth getting straight.
In other words, the path is clear, the payoff is certain.
The metric shit ton of effort I have invested will pay off for the rest of my life. Therefore, a couple thousand dollars and some lost hours aren’t a big deal. When I am 70, I will still have straight teeth (if I still have teeth at all, that is).
So if you are struggling and in pain, or if you are like me and frustrated with all that upfront work you have to put in, have no fear! Everyone who wants straight teeth has to go through it.
I am a firm believer in this equation: w + t = p
Work + Time = Payoff
How much work and how much time and how much payoff are variables. The unknowns. We have to live with them.