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You can’t always fix it yourself; sometimes you need a specialist

This column is the last of two titled, Life lessons from my orthodontists

I arrived with my crooked smile at the cozy blue-gray storefront on South 87th Street known as Braces By Barnes, nearly three years ago. I always tap the first letter of my last name on the computer screen then my birth date.

Soon a female technician, wearing a floral smock, beckons me to a room with dental chairs, where Dr. Eric M. Barnes, a slightly mustachioed brother, runs his practice with his daughter Dr. Ashley Barnes.


It feels like family here. R&B and soul music flow, setting my mind and soul at ease.

I began my monthly appointments with Doctors Barnes in May 2016 to heal my crooked smile. The process had begun months earlier at the steady hands of a dental surgeon. My orthodontists began with a series of X-rays, the estimated costs and assurances that they could fix my teeth.

It was the hope I needed. For by then, I had become nearly resigned to losing my front left tooth and replacing it with an implant.

The thought alone left me wounded — in the way one feels when coming face to face with your own mortality when suddenly it collides with time, reality and life’s inevitable losses for which there are no more medicinal, surgical or prayed for remedies.

Admittedly, a tooth is not an arm. Not a leg. Not an eye, not a kidney. Not a son or a daughter or some other loved one.

In the scheme of things that can go horribly wrong in this American life, losing a tooth may not be among the most monumental.

But this much I know: After we buried Mama, I was broken — visibly whole, but internally shattered in ways that mostly went unspoken. Scarred, bitter and angry. So angry.

At death. At God. At Alzheimer’s. At the incalculable siphoning of strength that afflicts those who care for loved ones through sickness and disease unto death. I know now that so much of me was irretrievably lost.

At times, I looked in the mirror and did not see me. At times, honestly, I did not care whether I lived or died.

My left tooth’s northeasterly migration left me with a gap. Made me feel ashamed. Made me want to stop smiling altogether. I started putting my hand up subconsciously to hide it and was resolved to letting it go.

But deep in my soul, I could hear Mama’s comforting voice: “Son, smile again. … You took care of me. I want you to smile again … ”

In between appointments for tightening and adjustments, between pain and the probing of my teeth, in between time and space, between casual conversations with God and my orthodontists, and the gradual healing of my heart and soul, I found myself smiling more and more through the wires. I found lessons on my journey back:

Follow doctor’s orders. You can’t always fix it yourself; sometimes you need a specialist.

The road to healing may be paved with pain. Be encouraged; no pain lasts forever.

Maybe you can’t fix it exactly like it was, but maybe it can be even better.

You may be aware of one issue but discover there are several others that are related. You can’t fix in a hurry what may have taken years to become displaced.

Don’t be discouraged by the process; it takes the process to make you.

Even when you’re done, you may need a permanent retainer.

Never give up. Dream. Live.

These are the lessons learned. Soul lessons I will cherish like the retainers for my smile mended by the braces removed a week after Christmas, restoring the gift — and joy — of my two front teeth.

Email: author@johnwfountain.com