Invisalign at My Age?


“Keep the trays in your mouth for at least 22 hours a day,” my dentist told me as he inserted my first set of clear plastic Invisalign braces. “You can’t eat or drink anything except water when they’re in.”

This was the scariest part of getting Invisalign. A dull ache in my mouth as the teeth shifted like tectonic plates I could take. Sleeping with a mouthful of plastic, no problem. Lisping or spitting a bit when I talked with the trays in, I was ready for. But no snacking? No cup of tea whenever I wanted? No gum-chewing to freshen my breath? No tasting as I cooked? These habits seemed fundamental to my well-being. Being a grazer felt like a permanent trait, possibly traceable to a snacking gene on one of my chromosomes. What was I doing, bringing this deprivation on myself?

Second grade school picture

Second grade school picture

I can’t remember a time when I liked my teeth. They’re crooked, especially the lower ones. Even with a few teeth extracted when I was young to make room for the rest, my lower front teeth look like a line of dominos the cat just walked through. On top, my two front teeth dominate my smile, with the neighboring lateral incisors lurking behind on each side like shy toddlers who’ve just been introduced to a stranger. Those two front teeth were massive in relation to my face when they first came in. The rest of me grew into them a bit, and bruxism (teeth grinding) whittled them down a millimeter or two before I got a mouth guard. But I’ve never had that lovely U-shaped arc of well-aligned teeth, top or bottom. 

None of the four kids in my family got braces when we were young. We weren’t rich, although I’ve lately started to wonder if our parents could have swung for braces if they’d wanted to. They provided well for us on my dad’s bowling-alley-manager salary, but there weren’t many frills. Based on their no-nonsense Midwestern attitudes towards so many things, I’m assuming that braces fell into the “nice to have” category.  

I envied the kids with braces at school, even those who had to wear rubber bands or head gear. My whole life, it seems, I’ve been deeply attracted to delayed gratification and to fixing basic infrastructure problems before moving on to exterior beautification. Braces meant your family was investing in you. Braces meant that you were being set right for life. Braces made you part of the “haves” rather than the “have nots.”

Once I went to college, graduate school, and then into my work career, I barely thought about braces. The obsession faded completely. If you’d asked me when I was 35 whether I’d ever get braces or still wanted them, I’d have snorted an emphatic “No!” I couldn’t have imagined myself with a mouthful of metal at the office. Braces were for kids, and I’d missed that window. No biggie. Life isn’t fair. One of my brothers got braces in his late 30’s. I never told him, but at the time I thought he’d made a vain and misguided choice.

So what changed? Why am I doing this now? Certainly the invention of clear plastic braces makes it possible. But why, at my age, when an older woman’s thoughts turn to strategies for looking younger, am I choosing braces over, say, a forehead lift, spider vein treatment, or some kind of augmentation or suction? 

Am I looking for the perfect smile? No. Perfection in my case would require more work on my bite, maybe some bonding and gum grafts, and possibly a botox injection or two. That’s not going to happen. Some people get braces because they’re embarrassed to open their mouths and show their teeth. That’s not me. This isn’t a confidence issue. In fact, I can’t imagine that anyone’s response to me will be at all different with my teeth straighter.

I’m now a month into braces, and the no-snacking regime hasn’t been as hard as I thought. I guess I’m not the unalterable grazer I’d imagined. I can actually go up to six hours between meals if I have to! I’m in a phase now where lunch is sometimes a line-up of my long-favorite snacks—peanuts, popcorn, rice crackers, roasted edamame, sliced apples, carrot and celery sticks, washed down with some black tea. I feel less deprived that way. I’ve already started sneaking an occasional green tea with my trays in. I learn the best tricks from a Facebook support group. Whether I’ll drop any weight like some of the people say they have, we’ll see.

I know I’m not the oldest person using Invisalign. On one of the threads in the support group, someone mentioned that she’s 71. You go, girl! On another site, several dentists noted that they have Invisalign patients in their 80’s. Whoa. 

I don’t know about them, but my impulse to get Invisalign doesn’t feel like I’m doing it for the future me and whatever intangible benefits it might bring. This desire for Invisalign seems to be about the past. It’s about a long-standing wrong that needs to be set right, a teenager’s yearning that needs to be addressed.

I find myself irresistibly more in touch with my younger self these days. I’m drawn into those feelings and desires as if they were cryogenically preserved years ago and recently brought back to life. Maybe semi-retirement these last few years has made room in my head for youthful frustrations and yearnings to creep in. I used to say that I didn’t remember much from my childhood, but now that the non-stop parade of full-time work problems doesn’t dominate my brain, more and more scenes and impressions from the past have stepped into the light. 

So I seem to be making a late investment in a young woman whose logical mind just wanted something fixed and wanted to feel more special. Would her life have been different if she’d had braces back then? Would she have been a little less shy or pursued a different career path? Would she have been considered prettier and offered different opportunities at key points in her life? Who knows? I have no complaints. I’ve been incredibly fortunate my whole life. And on top of all that, I’ll soon have straight teeth!

I’m the Older Lady on the Treadmill Next to you in Fitness Class

Treadmill Tennis shoes 16x9.jpg

Yes, I’m old enough to be your mother. I realize that might be distracting. And my outfit isn’t in style. When did cotton become so uncool for women to work out in? 

You might be wondering why women over 50 become members of Orange Theory, SoulCycle, CrossFit, or pick-your-favorite yoga studio. Shouldn’t we be taking walks around the block for exercise and leaving hardcore fitness to the younger generation? Before I answer this, let me back up and trace the journey that eventually led me, well into my 50s, to sign up for Orange Theory. 

“Linda uses a backhand as she tries to stop her opponent from scoring the last winning point.” Eisenhower High Aquila 1977

“Linda uses a backhand as she tries to stop her opponent from scoring the last winning point.” Eisenhower High Aquila 1977

I came from a sports-oriented family and was a pretty serious athlete in high school. I played first singles on the varsity women’s tennis team and was the catcher on the varsity softball team. I wasn’t a jock at heart, though, and, truth be told, I wasn’t as good as these first-string roles sound. As soon as I got to college, I ditched organized sports, both as a player and fan. But I was motivated to stay in shape. So I switched from sports to fitness.

I happened to start college when “aerobics classes” were exploding in popularity. The term “aerobics” didn’t even enter the vernacular until the late 1960’s[1] (its successor, “cardio,” came much later). By the end of the 1970’s, you could sign up for an aerobics class almost anywhere, including universities. Our instructors, clad in leotards, tights, and leg warmers—so many of them were dancers—taught uncomplicated jumping steps to rows of new fitness junkies. We huffed and puffed to the beat of rock-n-roll playlists, which in those days were made on home stereo systems. Instructors had to tape each desired track in sequence from vinyl LPs onto long-running cassette tapes. 

I didn’t settle into any tried and true routine in my 20’s. I relocated a lot. I went to graduate school. I had a number of one-year teaching jobs. So fitness was catch-as-catch-can, and my body was forgiving. I used university gyms, played tennis if I could find a buddy, walked with my new Walkman, and started using taped workouts. Jane Fonda revolutionized aerobics in the early 1980’s with her famous “Jane Fonda Workout,” available on cassette, vinyl, and VHS videotape. This meant that you didn’t have to go to a class. You could do aerobics in your own home, just you and Jane.

My 30’s was a career-building decade, so I had to fit exercise around my busy work schedule. I lived 15 minutes from the nearest city, and it seemed like a waste of time to drive to a gym and back every day. I started buying more aerobics tapes (later DVDs) so I could finish in an hour before showering and leaving for the office. 

The problem with the tapes, though, is that they got to be boring. I ended up memorizing every move, every song, every word with the exact inflection the instructor used, every tiny mistake they left in. Going through the same workout over and over could be mind-numbing, and pretty soon I was strongly tempted to skip a day, and then another. Even in the 90’s after Gin Miller invented step aerobics, Billy Blanks created Tae Bo, and the number of DVDs ballooned, the only trick that worked for me was to buy a lot of DVDs so I could space out the repetitions of any one workout. 

Treadmill P90X ripoff.jpg

In my 40’s a lot of advice came out saying aerobic conditioning was not enough. Building muscle was critical for good health and a fiery metabolism. Ever the cheapskate, after the P90X craze took off in 2005 with its twelve DVDs of intense resistance and body-weight training, I bought a cheap knockoff. After a month, all the lunges and squats made my knees scream in pain. That was the first time it dawned on me that I might be getting too old for fitness. No matter what I did or how I tried to strengthen my legs, I couldn’t keep going. I had to put those DVDs aside. 

My restlessness for something new led to a year of tap-dance lessons, including a season-ending recital in which my class performed in full fig and fedora to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” The next year I decided to start running, mostly because I wanted to join work colleagues in my company’s annual 5K. I kept to tame distances (morning runs had to be fit in before work) and I didn’t run in the winter in New Jersey. I found running 3-4 miles quite agreeable—why had I never tried it before? I loved getting outdoors and enjoyed the “runner’s high.” During the cold months I went back to my DVDs and hammered them out as usual.

Treadmill half marathon.jpg

My 50’s has been a decade of “need a change” in every direction. I left my job of 25 years. My husband, cat, and I moved across the country to Portland, Oregon. I down-shifted to part-time work in order to start my vegan website, cooking classes, and writing.

On the fitness front, during my first summer in Portland, my 20-year-old niece proposed that we train to run a marathon together. I warily committed to a half marathon, and we spent the next five months piling up the miles. Toe and sole blisters slowed me down until I learned that your running shoes should be at least one full size bigger than your street shoes. And I had some trouble with my IT (ilio-tibial) band until I learn to stretch it and knead it with a foam roller. I finished the Portland Half Marathon that fall and was full of plans to run a race every few months. 

But my niece went back to college, and Portland retreated into its seasonal affective winter. I needed something more to supplement my routine. I’d permanently had it with the DVDs. 

Orange Theory email feedback

Orange Theory email feedback

That same niece, when she was home for the winter holidays, took me to an Orange Theory class for high-intensity interval training. During that trial session I was pathetic on the rower and in the weight room. But, runner that I’d become, I crushed it on the treadmill. It took a few months to decide, but finally I signed up for the 2-times-per-week plan. It was the first time I’d joined a studio or gym. I’m going on two years at Orange Theory and just started using the 25-pound dumbbells for some of the lifts.

Before feeling sorry or embarrassed for the older lady on the treadmill next to you, remember that, like me, she may have pranced and twirled her way through the dawn of modern cardio. She has seen a lot of fitness fads and technology come and go.

We’re playing the long game. We know deeply that it’s about perseverance, not high speeds and too-heavy weights. It’s about health and quality of life, not the fountain of youth.

As long as the workouts don’t bore me, injure me, or require me to wear a spangled vest and black fedora, I’m in. 

[1]Cooper, Kenneth H., and Mildred Cooper. Aerobics. New York: Bantam Books, 1968.