Start check!” a technician called, and Dr. Ben Burris stood up from his MacBook in an anteroom of one of his 22 offices, a recent acquisition in the unlikely empire he’s building around the State of Arkansas: as of last year, the world’s largest privately owned orthodontics practice. “I mean, it’s not rocket science,” he said, rounding the corner to return to the immaculate, U-shaped treatment room that was pulsing with activity. Light was flooding through a bank of windows overlooking a strip-mall parking lot and a highway in Siloam Springs, near the Oklahoma border. Seven occupied chairs sat beside seven computer terminals. Technicians — young, all female, each wearing matching slim-cut pink scrubs — were whirling back and forth from the overflowing waiting room to the chairs to a giant island in the middle of the room, where they gathered hardware, chatted, and gooped huge blops of alginate for various orthodontic impressions. Rihanna beamed in via satellite: “We found love in a hopeless place, we found love in a — hopeless — place.”

Snapping on a pair of blue nitrile gloves and glancing at the patient’s name and information on the adjacent screen, Burris saddled up at the farthest chair. Behind him on the wall hung two marker-board thought-clouds inviting patients to tag their Instagram selfies with “#bracesbyburris for a chance to win a BeatBox by Dr. Dre.” Burris is 43, well over six feet tall and burly, with buzz-cut thinning gray hair and a flawless set of teeth. It was not yet 10 a.m., and so far he’d seen more than three dozen patients.

The visibly shaking 15-year-old girl wore an ANARCHY T-shirt and plaid lounge pants, her mouth and lips held wide open by a clear plastic device. Burris began moving the brackets the attendant had already floated atop glue and would use a blue-light-emitting wand to set. “Don’t worry,” he joked in his South Carolinian drawl. “I watched a YouTube video on how to do this last night.” Barely two minutes later, he was snapping on another pair of gloves to remove, with a drill, the brackets and glue of another patient, an 18-year-old who was en route to Army boot camp. After he finished, she sat there, smiling, rubbing her tongue across her suddenly slimy teeth, clutching the clear plastic bag the assistants had given her, full of taffy and Jolly Ranchers and Blow Pops and all the things she hadn’t been able to eat, as they suddenly clapped in unison, singing:

Na na na na na na na na na
Today’s your big day
Today’s your big day
Mighty mighty big day …

Before the vinyl of her chair had cooled, it was occupied again, now by a pimply boy with Justin Bieber hair who sat staring out the window. It was as if you could feel the memories being made, the particular view of the cars streaming down the Arkansas highway, Burris and the technicians, childhood, home, all of it — not just here but for teenagers across America, the vast majority of whom now wear braces, customers in a rapidly expanding industry that has little reason to exist except the clearest reason in the world.

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