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Midlife Metal Mouth: Finally Getting the Smile I’ve Always Wanted

While friends are dealing with night sweats and depleting hormones, Melissa Gould is running to the ortho along with 12-year-olds. Here's why braces are worth the pain and awkwardness.

When I told my 21-year-old daughter that I was getting braces, she said, “Oh good! They’ll match your menopausal acne!” She was only half-joking. While so many of my friends are consulting with their doctors about night sweats and depleting hormones, I’m running into the ortho along with 12-year-olds to get more wax for my aching teeth, and to do a rubber band check.

At 50-plus years old, I’m wearing braces for the first time in my life. I never had them as a child as I was told that my bite was fine, and my teeth were straight enough. But as I got older, I couldn’t help but notice that my chompers were just off.  While a lack of confidence has never been my issue, my smile had me feeling self-conscious—in conversations, smiling for photos, meeting new people.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I found myself a widow in my 40’s. This is the subject of my recently released memoir, Widowish. It’s because of Widowish and book promotion in the time of COVID that I found myself on camera. Every day. For months. Zoom interviews, Zoom book clubs, Zoom author talks. While strangers around the world shared how much my story resonated, all I could focus on was my teeth. I just couldn’t take it any longer.

Read More: Smile Makeover: Is Cosmetic Dentistry Worth It?

My Tooth Truth

When I was in my 30s, I had first consulted an orthodontist. She told me that in order to improve my smile, I would need to have eight teeth pulled. I was crushed. That would mean surgery, recovery, and then braces. My husband said that he loved my smile just the way it was. I decided to live with my not perfect, but entirely functional teeth.

While a lack of confidence has never been my issue, my smile had me feeling self-conscious.

But this time, with a schedule full of Zooms on the horizon, I was determined. On the drive to a new ortho, I told myself, “If she says that she doesn’t have to pull any teeth, I will do it, immediately.” In a nutshell—although nuts are something I can no longer eat until the braces come off—that’s exactly what happened. 

I wasn’t a candidate for Invisalign. “Metal will be faster and give me more control,” the orthodontist said. So at the ripe old age of near-menopause, I decided to take the plunge.

As mentioned, I also have rubber bands. They connect some top teeth to bottom, and I have to wear them All. Day. Long. I can barely open my mouth, need to be careful when I sneeze, and God forbid I have to yawn. I think I’ve also developed the slightest lisp, there’s not enough Vaseline in the world for my dry lips, and I’ve had to temporarily give up my favorite foods like toasted everything bagels and dark chocolate almonds. I now eat things like fig butter and if I’m feeling really indulgent, mashed potatoes.  

“Look I Got Braces”

Still, I have no regrets and even decided that if I was going to have a mouthful of metal, I would embrace it. When I run into people I haven’t seen in a while, and sometimes even with strangers, I open my mouth and say, “Look, I got braces!” As if they couldn’t see for themselves. Ok fine, sometimes I have to pull down my mask to show them, but I prefer to pre-empt any squinting at my mouth or curiosity on their part when I start talking. Yes, the braces may match my youthful exuberance, but I am a middle-aged woman.

I think I’ve developed the slightest lisp, and there’s not enough Vaseline in the world for my dry lips.

To be clear, I am constantly aware that they are there—I feel them 24/7—but I’ve decided not to be self-conscious about it. Even on my social media, I’ve posted selfies, broad smile on my face, pointing to my metal-mouth. My favorite comment to date is from someone who used to babysit our daughter: “16-year-old widow!” she wrote. I loved that she recognized the ridiculousness of my life: young widowhood, later-in-life braces. I had to laugh, as I know my husband would, too. 

One day, in the not too far off future, I’ll have that million-dollar smile that I’m paying a small fortune for. In the meantime, I have a few Zooms next week. I’ll be sure to flaunt my bling.

Read More: Terrified of Public Speaking? It’s Never Too Late to Face Your Fear


Melissa Gould’s memoir, Widowish, was an Amazon Editors Pick, a Goodreads Top 48 Book of 2021 and has been named one of the 100 Best Grief Books of All Time. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Hollywood Reporter, Buzzfeed and more. Find Melissa at www.widowish.com.

By Melissa Gould


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