Braces and Snorkeling or Scuba Diving

by Kevin DuPre, ArchWired reader

Recently I went on a Caribbean cruise vacation, but not before getting braces. My braces were on for about 3 weeks before we traveled, and having taken my snorkeling gear to Hawaii last year I was contemplating taking it to the Caribbean on this trip. We would be stopping in Barbados, Martinique and Aruba where the snorkeling and scuba diving would be exquisite and I really didn't want to miss out.

As we were packing I took out the snorkel and wondered if there would be adequate clearance between the brackets and the mouthpiece. Unless you have extractions in the places where the bite tabs are on the snorkel or a scuba regulator your teeth only come in contact with the mouthpiece in at most two places.

Trying it on, I discovered that the brackets were no problem - plenty of clearance, and the bite tabs are soft (silicone for my snorkel at least, and more than likely rubber on the regulator). Decision made, I packed mask, fins and snorkel. In a few days we were on our way.

Upon arrival to the cruise ship, we proceeded to book our shore tours: sail and snorkel in Barbados and Martinique, and scuba diving in Aruba. The first tour in Martinique was via a huge catamaran sailboat which took us across the harbor to a secluded part of the island. Now were going from "dry trial" to the real deal. 

The cat dropped anchor in about 40 feet of water, and lowered the stairway between the hulls into the water. My cheeks were bugging me at this point and I had two wads of orthodontic wax which I had to get rid of. It's not that there was any clearance problem with them in but the last thing I wanted to do with my face underwater was to inhale a gob of orthodontic wax! Fins on, mask on, and snorkel in mouth I took the plunge. Not so bad, and the tour went off without a hitch. I even got to swim with a giant loggerhead sea turtle for a while. Returning to the cat about an hour later, doffing my fins and heading up the stairs from the bay, I had no idea how tightly you bite on the snorkel's mouthpiece until I took it out of my mouth. Wow! It felt like all my teeth in braces were in different places. Of course the reality was that they might have moved a little, but within a couple of hours everything felt back in place. A little ibuprofen and I was set.

On Barbados, we snorkeled over a wreck in water that was clear all the way to 50 feet! By this time I was used to what to expect with the snorkel and didn't feel braces a hindrance to one of my favorite sports at all.

Thursday was a day at sea as the ship steamed to Aruba our final island destination before returning to San Juan.

My 18 year-old son joined me on the scuba tour, although if you ask him it was me that joined him. We had a "classroom" setting under palm trees on the beach as we learned the basic skills needed to equalize pressure, work the equipment, etc. Following this we had a pool session to practice things like breathing under water (it's harder than you think because your body's natural reaction is to hold your breath).

One of the skills in the pool session I was concerned about involved "losing the regulator". Essentially what this amounts to is after taking a breath, while under water, you literally take the regulator out of your mouth and let it float to the end of its hose, all the while trickling a stream of bubbles out of your pursed lips (you are trained to never hold your breath because that can be dangerous on ascent as your lungs expand from the reduction in pressure). The skill then is to sweep your hand down, and behind you and then overhead capturing the regulator hose and regaining control of the regulator which by now is filled with water (remember your lungs are still filled with air but it's getting stale at this point and you need more). All of this happens in a matter of 10s of seconds so you still have more than enough air to complete the maneuver. The trick is once you quickly get the regulator in your mouth is to exhale what you have left to clear it of water and then take a breath and start breathing again.

Our rental equipment was fitted with two such regulators, one for you and one for your dive buddy to share your air supply should he/she run out while at depth.

The pool session was a success and we headed to the dive boat which motored out to see about a half mile to the dive site a wreck sunk around the time of WWII.

My son and I were some of the first people in the water, the dive was beautiful and we ended up paying the extra 50 bucks to have a memory CD of professionally taken underwater photos and movies to take home with us. After 40 minutes at depth and of course, constant breathing through the regulator we were both fortunate to never have to execute the "recover the regulator" maneuver or share air. We returned to the dive boat after 45 minutes underwater and I was truly amazed at how both my teeth AND jaw felt upon giving up the regulator. While it is much heavier than a snorkel, part of the support for the regulator is the air hose attachment back to the tank.

I don't think that it was the weight of the regulator so much as the adrenaline and the resulting bite force needed to keep your #2 survival link in place (the ability to keep your cool is #1!) that resulted in feeling as if my teeth and jaw had moved.

Again, within an hour or so this feeling had subsided and I felt back to normal, all the richer for the experience.

While it may seem that braces might prevent us from doing some of the things we love, you don't really know unless you try. This is probably the most pressing activity since the means to participate directly involves your teeth and your bite which are not as strong as they were before braces or after stabilization of the result. In fact it was probably more enjoyable to me in terms of a sense of accomplishment, because I had a little more to overcome than the rest of the group who were sans braces!

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