Dubai Diaries: My love-hate story with braces

Kirstin Bernabe-Santos looks back at her rocky and crooked relationship with the metal contraption



BE8642 Teen girl with hand in hair
BE8642 Teen girl with hand in hair

Behind a smile could be a gazillion different things other than glee; some may be obvious but many won’t. There could be anxiety; a tale of a girl bullied in school; or a go-getter’s everyday struggle.

Behind mine is a 11-year relationship — a crooked, love-hate story with a set of braces. Yes, for 11 long years, I wore that metal contraption that turned your s’s into shhh’s. That wasn’t the norm, though. It is extremely rare for someone to wear braces for such a long period.

On average, a person would need just about one to three years to get her teeth straightened. My experience had been rocky, to say the least, as I had to move from one dentist to another. I skipped appointments not just for weeks at a time but for months (or even years), for many reasons. Often, I couldn’t make time for the dentist.

I was 15 when I got them and my parents were overseas, so I had to be responsible enough to do what needed to be done. At one point, though, the teenager that I was, just stopped caring — brackets were swallowed, rubber bands snapped, wires all bent in the wrong places.

I’m pretty sure that for years, my braces were either not working anymore or were doing more harm than good. It took a lot of maturity and commitment for me to finally set my teeth free. Eventually, I got there.

When my now-forever dentist (my husband’s mother) took the braces off in 2017, I remembered all the reasons why I wore them in the first place.

Back in the ’90s when Kodak cameras were the thing, I would smile my best and eagerly look forward to the day the roll of film gets developed. No shot ever turned out nice. The photos would all look the same: A girl and her big upper teeth exposed. Like Bugs Bunny, but add more teeth. There was no curve whatsoever on my lips, no glimmer in my eyes; just teeth.

An aunt would say ‘your photo would look better if you smile with your lips closed’. I could never do it. Some part of my teeth was permanently perched on my lower lip, like lovers sitting on a bench. It crushed my self-esteem.

Somehow, kids and teens have it better these days. Braces are now more accessible and relatively more affordable, with flexible payment plans on offer everywhere.

The technology is superb, too. You can have perfectly aligned pearly whites with no wires at all. The youth also have the cameras to master their selfie angles.

More than anything, there’s a bigger support system out there that redefines beauty and encourages youngsters to be kind to themselves.

Sometimes, I would smile with my lips closed in front a mirror just to tell my nine-year-old self that we made it in life. And also, I remind her that it isn’t really the teeth that make a smile beautiful — it’s the heart.

Kirstin now has to deal with her braces’ cousin, the retainers, which she has to wear every night


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