“I am not my smile”

Project Description:

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt judged by my smile. Let’s face it, everybody is.  Smiles are powerful. They make you feel good. They make others feel good and are often “contagious”.  And for as long as I can remember, I hated my smile. Unfortunately smiles are most often judged by appearance and not sincerity or passion.  I wasn’t lucky enough to be one of those gawky teenage kids with braces.  I was just a gawky teenage kid with a “horrible smile”.

I spent a good 20 years feeling overly self conscious about my crooked teeth, and attribute a great deal of my social anxiety to that aspect of my appearance. I dreamt of the day I would get braces and change all of that!  That day came 2 years ago in March of 2009, at the age of 32, when I was finally able to afford orthodontic treatment! The possibilities appeared endless, with seemingly amazing advances in technology. I was overwhelmed and beyond excited.  I had a tooth extracted and began treatment with clear plastic braces as opposed to traditional standard metal. For about 18 months the treatment moved along smoothly until one day, suddenly from “nowhere” came pain from where the tooth was extracted.  “Unexplained, impossible to diagnose” pain; losing the abilities to chew or even talk at times.  What started out as an exciting way to “improve” myself and my social confidence, had instantly turned into a fight to get back basic facial functions.  What started out as a way to obtain a nicer smile, turned into a fight to even be able to smile or laugh, regardless of what it looked like.

Here we are now, 6 months after the initial onset of damage, and things seem to be very slowly improving with a new course of action and treatment.  I’m 34 years old with a face full of metal, and the desire to smile; yet a long ways from being “fixed” and still unsure what the final outcome will be, or if I will ever regain normal, pain free movement.

It is still so hard to overcome being insecure about appearance, especially when a smile or lack of one is the first impression you make, but I look back now and can see the basic foolishness in it. Getting through each day and not having the physical ability to smile, or smiling through the pain, is much more difficult than being too self conscious to. Yet at the same time this experience also reinforces the idea of just how powerful having that self confidence can be.

It’s looking like a long road ahead, but in the meantime, I continue to learn how to look toward the positives around me because there are so many and to try and stay “smiling” even when I can’t or may not want to.