Monday, August 17, 2009

The Plastic Age

When I was in the third grade, braces were a status symbol. They were something that the cool kids had, even though we didn't really refer to them as "the cool kids" yet. The word "orthodontist" rolled out of their mouths with ease. They bonded at recess over color combinations and rubber bands, trying to impress each other (and gross the rest of us out) by popping their blue or rainbow or glittery retainers out and showing them off. When they talked, their mouths looked high-tech and important. I really, really wanted braces.

Instead, I got a labial frenectomy, which sounds a lot more exciting than it is. Instead of gross-in-a-cool-way, I was just gross. I had a row of thick, black stitches between my two front teeth for weeks. My upper lip was puffy and swollen just in time for Picture Day. My third grade portrait looks like some sort of underage collagen experiment gone wrong.

Eventually, my desire for a metal-laced smile faded. But my teeth never straightened themselves out. So after some serious back-and-forth about cost versus benefits to long-term dental health and all that jazz, I'm finally getting my teeth messed with. My inner third-grader is overjoyed.

As I waited in the dentist's office last week for my second set of plastic aligners (because metal braces when you're 20-[cough] years old? Not so cute) it occurred to me that plastic wasn't even an orthodontic option when I was in third grade. Having to wait so long to get my teeth straightened has ended up meaning using a completely different system. I started to wonder what medical procedures that I take for granted now will seem old fashioned to Westley.

Before Westley was born, Rob let some people shoot lasers into his eyes so that he wouldn't have to wear glasses any more. I watched part of the procedure, and it looked as freakishly futuristic as it sounds. It was kind of a big deal, and we were sort of in awe of it. But Westley will grow up with that technology already in place: laser eye surgery will just be something people do. In fact, by the time Westley is old enough to need glasses or braces or acne medication, doctors will just be zapping teenagers with all-purpose, all-over medical lasers. Like a spray-tanning for your health.

Okay, maybe all-purpose medical lasers are a bit of a stretch, but it's certainly fair to say that Westley's generation is growing up in The Future. Their eyes will be lasered. Their braces will be plastic. They're not going to understand buying music on CDs, or writing things out in longhand, or driving a vehicle that uses only gasoline (knock on sustainably harvested wood). It makes me wonder what will be the status symbol in Westley's third grade class. Has it even been invented yet?