Last updated: Jun 01, 2010


I just got a retainer, and Im not the only grown-up woman I know whos obsessed with her teeth. Is it just vanity … or a smart health move?

I brush two or three times daily, floss nightly, and see my dentist twice a year. Yet, I still spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about my teeth.

It all started with a beer can back when I was in college. My Roommate Who Will Forever Live in Dental Infamy accidentally elbowed me in the face as I was drinking my Milwaukees Best. Best hit tooth, tooth chipped in an impossible-not-to-notice way. I was so humiliated by the “trashy” half-tooth that I barely spoke in the days between the accident and the dental appointment—and I didnt smile at all.

It was as if the sum of my personality was contained in that eighth-of-an-inch of shattered incisor. Subsequent mouth-first run-ins with an overcooked pizza crust, a CD case, a shrimp shell, a hangnail, and a peach pit have required me to get that same broken tooth bonded and re-bonded, then porcelain veneered and re-veneered about a half-dozen times over the past 15 years.

Only under such intense scrutiny could I have noticed that my bottom teeth were reverting back to their crooked ways. Noooooo! I didnt suffer with braces and live without Snickers bars between the ages of 13 and 16 so they could mutiny in middle age!

So a few months ago, I made an appointment and got an orthodontic retainer to wear while I sleep. My dentist called it a night-guard and assured me it would help grown-up problems like teeth-grinding, but its really no different than the retainer I wore 20 years ago.

The first time I heard that metallic “click” in my mouth, I instantly regressed to middle school. I heard a New Edition song playing on the radio and was like, You know, the Jonas Brothers can suck it, because “Cool It Now” still totally rules.

And Im not the only one among my family and friends with an oral fixation. My husband still wears a retainer on his top and bottom teeth. (“Honey, dont put your retainer in yet,” has become shorthand for certain, um, amorous advances.) My brother got invisible braces in his 30s. And no less than three adult friends have told me that they, too, are considering various orthodontic appliances. “Im not embarrassed about getting braces at 35,” said one friend, who prefers anonymity, “only the fact that my parents are paying for them.”

As for whiter teeth, the proliferation of bleaching products out there almost makes you feel guilty for not trying for the Hollywood standard of pearly whites. A friend of mine from the United Kingdom tells me that she never thought about her less-than-
dazzling smile until she moved to the States. Now, bombarded by images of people with perfect teeth, shes tempted to go for the 15-minute bargain-teeth-bleaching treatment offered right in the middle of one of those buy-in-bulk box stores.

Ive urged her to think twice. I mean, does she really want to get her teeth brightened at the same place that she goes to buy 96 rolls of toilet paper? And, yet, as my sister-in-law Donna, a dental hygienist, pointed out to me, there is a redeeming quality to our vanity-driven quest for perfect teeth.

“The upside to paying so much attention to our teeth is that people are actually taking better care of them (brushing, flossing, going for checkups) than ever before,” she says. Come to think of it, Donnas right: I havent had a cavity in years. Now, if only wearing Spanx lowered cholesterol.

Megan McCafferty is the author of five novels that have made The New York Times Best Seller List. Perfect Fifths (Crown) is her most recent work.