After the age of eight, I rarely smiled openly. I'd hide my mouth behind my hand, and smile through my fingers.
Decades ago, when our cute paperboy came to the front door, my sister and I raced each other through the kitchen. I slipped, crashing headfirst into the corner of the counter. I remember my mother crying as I spat out blood and broken shards of tooth into the sink. Although not a stranger to dental accidents - I knocked out a front tooth, albeit a baby tooth, three years before when I fell off my bike and zambonied the pavement the day before my kindergarten photo was taken - the pain from this accident was excruciating as each breath and rinse of cold water hit exposed nerves.
We caught our dentist as he was closing. Due to the force of the impact, most of the surrounding teeth would die, he explained. Ten permanent teeth must be pulled - six on the top, and four on the bottom. My parents were leaving for a two-week canoe trip and my mother asked if he could postpone the extractions until their return. Of course, he said, but warned my teeth would most certainly be black by then.
I went to school the next day with a swollen mouth and two metal caps where my front teeth used to be. The teacher gasped when she saw my mouth. The entire class turned and stared. The mortification was almost unbearable. My constitution proved stronger than my dentist's predictions - my teeth did not turn black. Had my parents not taken that trip, I would be ten teeth short of a set.
We quickly switched to a new dentist. This lovely fellow performed Direct Electrical Stimulation - a fancy way of saying he applied electric shocks to my teeth just above the metal caps, increasing the voltage until I writhed and yelped, and he was satisfied that the nerves were still “viable.” After a couple of weeks of this, he removed the caps, and I was left with a ragged, V-shaped hole.
I lived with this battered smile and chronic fear of dentists for the next 15 years.
I compensated by not smiling, or by bringing a hand in front of my mouth. I made few friends at university, because I was too shy to speak in public and they thought I was snotty. Every Christmas my father sang "All I want for Christmas are my two front Teeth." Alas, Santa never came through. After graduating from University, I was working at a low end job, unhappily married to the only boy I had ever dated in high school, when I finally got up the guts to fix my front teeth.
Salvation came in the form of my new dentist. He specialized in patients who were dental phobics. My experiences as a child certainly qualified me. He looked at me and said "I think I can do something for you. Will you trust me?" After much deliberation, I agreed and we set a date. As he worked, I gripped the arms of the dental chair, envisioning two Chiclets, or a Bugs Bunny smile... I will never forget that moment when Dr. K. finished and handed me a mirror. I couldn't believe the transformation. It was beautiful. For the first time in my life, I felt beautiful! I burst into tears, grabbed him by the ears and kissed him, almost knocking him to the floor.
But the real transformation had just begun. You see, from that moment on, I smiled. I smiled at friends. I smiled at strangers. I smiled at the guy collecting tickets in the subway station. And you know what? They all smiled back. I even felt happier. It’s true that just the physical act of smiling can improve mood and your health. Your brain tells you, "I'm smiling, so I must be happy." Not only that, but you are perceived to be more attractive, genuine, sociable, and competent. I challenge each one of you reading this to finish your day smiling at everyone you meet. Watch what happens. I ended my marriage and got a new job. I had the opportunity to mingle with world leaders, visiting celebrities, even meeting and exchanging pleasantries with Princess Diana and Prince Charles. How? Walked up and smiled.
I met my current husband, as handsome a man as I've ever laid eyes on, as I stood on the sidewalk outside my Toronto apartment building. He remembers his first thought was, "Who is this girl with the beautiful smile?" We have now been together for 25 years and have three beautiful and accomplished children. Occasionally, when nervous, I still unconsciously cover my mouth. But now, my husband will smile and gently take my hand, and enfold it in his.
"Don't cover up that beautiful smile," he’ll whisper.
As for what my husband does for a living? Ah, there’s the rub.
He's a dentist.