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John Riceburg: I am getting braces and we are all going to die

John is getting some orthodontic work done – forcing him to contemplate his own mortality.

Image for John Riceburg: I am getting braces and we are all going to die
Photo courtesy of John Riceburg

“It will look fine,” he reassures me. “Most people won’t even notice.” My orthodontist seems like a really sweet guy. But I just can’t get him to understand.

I’m not worried about aesthetics. I actually think braces might look kind of cool on me – like that bartender William H. Macy falls in love with in Magnolia. No, I’m worried about the cold hand of death approaching.

Let me start at the beginning: My stupid, stupid teeth are in the wrong position. Most people have an ever-so-slight overbite. But my top two front teeth are situated right on top of the lower ones. So they’re grinding away around the clock, shortening by a few millimeters each year. I’ve been ignoring this as long as possible, but now they’re starting to hurt. And the only thing that will help, apparently, are braces.

What about just knocking out these two teeth with a hammer and replacing them with fake ones? I’ve looked into this, of course, and apparently this would create a whole different set of problems.

Braces are not nearly as common in Germany as they are in the US. It’s only in the last few years that you’ll regularly notice Berlin teenagers walking around with a grill. And good luck trying to get your Krankenkasse to cover them! They’ll only pay if treatment is started before your 18th birthday. So I’m paying the price of a small car out of pocket.

So tomorrow I’m getting a sharp metal contraption installed inside my mouth and I’m worried about the pain: will I be able to sleep? I’m worried about the maintenance: will I be able to eat burritos?

I know, literally everyone I know from the US – and a few from Germany – have been through this and survived. But trust me, I’m much weaker than other people. I’ve looked into this.

The big problem is that I’m getting older, passing 30 not so long ago. This is the first major health decision I’ve made that doesn’t include any “good” outcomes. Either I do nothing and watch my teeth get filed down to stubs. Or I can go through a painful treatment to delay the inevitable. But either way, I’m decaying – just trying to hold onto whatever body parts I can until they lower me into the ground.

As an atheist, I have to wonder, who is this “me”, anyway? I know I’m not my hand, since that could be cut off and I’d still be John Riceburg. I could even have my heart replaced with a mechanical pump and remain the same individual. The only thing really instrinsic is my brain. And now my teeth are shooting pain straight into the core of my being. This rot has reached this materialist’s “soul”.

So yes, I’m terrified. Tonight I’m going to eat a steak – who knows when I’ll have another chance? After that, I think I’ll lock myself in my room for the next 18 to 36 months to think about how short life is. Someday, I’ll post a picture like the one above, which my friend put on Facebook the day she got her braces removed. If I survive that long.