If you're not American, you might not know that many Americans sleep every night with one or two big chunks of plastic wedged in their mouths.
I certainly didn't know. A few months ago, I decided to hell with my British teeth, have them straightened. So I wore braces for six months. After the teeth were all nicely lined up and gleaming (I felt like Monty Python's Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth while this was happening), the braces were ready to come off.
"So," said the orthodontist, "now we fit your retainers."
"Retainers?" I gasped, thinking of Old Scrotum, wrinkled retainer of Rawlinson End.
Retainers turn out to be pieces of plastic molded around your teeth. Sticking the mold back onto your teeth encourages them to stay in the same alignment as the day they were molded. I'd never heard of this. Perhaps small American children learn about them the same time they learn of the tooth fairy, but to me it was new. I assumed that moving the teeth and letting the bone reform behind them was permanent. It's not. If you don't wear the retainers, the teeth all skulk briskly back whence they came and you are out several thousand dollars. (Plus all the emotional investment you put into wearing metal cages over your teeth for years.)
The net result is that most people who have worn braces wear retainers, usually for 24 hours a day the first few months and then only at night for the next umpteen years. I checked with a sampling of adult people I know (e.g. my dental hygienist) and they all admitted, yep, I still wear retainers at night. (Sample size: N=5) So next time you imagine an American starlet abed in her Victoria's Secret nightie, remember to imagine additionally that she is wearing a gumshield like Mike Tyson as she sweetly dreams.
I'm not settling for it, so I'm going to suggest an alternative to my orthodontist – hot glue. You might say I'm not an expert, but I've had teeth for almost five decades (though not always the same teeth), so I know something about them. He can hot glue them into position and I can sleep unencumbered by something resembling a pro-football mouth guard. And I'm not going to ask anybody else if they wear retainers because I don't think I want to know about it.