Odd how, in our quest to fit in and be like everyone else, we’re seduced into putting on masks in order to complete the illusion. The right haircut, the right clothes, the brightest smile; all of it promising to attract attention for being at our best. But have you ever wondered if the result of all that prescribed posturing isn’t actually homogenizing us to the point where we’re barely distinguishable from the other chameleons we used to sit with in the high school lunch room? Remember how the worst thing that could happen back then (or now) was getting singled out for all the wrong reasons?
Whatever the reason, we really seem to be programmed to feverishly call out the differences…anyone with masks different than our own. Are we that insecure in our own skins? It’s tough enough to acknowledge such Truth about others, much less yourself. That’s when it hit me.
For years, I’ve had a closeted disgust for people with bad teeth. I’m not proud to confess it, but for years, I looked down on anyone with sad or, worse yet, missing teeth. It bites hard when I think back on all the times I made harsh snap judgments about someone on nothing much more than the strength of their smile.
While it became my problem when I became a man, I can’t take all the credit for having such a nasty opinion of people with gaps in their grins. From as early as I can remember, we kids went to the family dentist twice a year. And then me – with my pronounced overbite – I got the orthodontist too! Seven years of braces, tightenings, head gear, rubber bands and retainers. Yes oh Ye Friends of the Floss, much energy (and Ora-Gel) was expended in pursuit of the perfect smile.
The dark side of my oral equation came in the form of an alcoholic dentist who drank, rinsed with Listerine and entered the exam room, excited at the prospect of another sadistic opportunity to hurt little kids. But back then, who believed such things of those in the healthcare field? He was the first person I ever remember hating or even what that meant.
But eventually I grew tall, my braces came off and my smile was dazzling. 22-months later, I had my accident, broke my face and in the span of a few falling seconds, was right back at square one [see Humpty Dumpty link at conclusion]. So once all the bones were healed, it was back to the orthodontist for more braces to regain what had been so hard-won and so quickly lost.
By this point, I was traumatized by all things dental. It was 15 or 20 years before I ever returned to the chair. Why? Because I knew for a fact (subjectively) that all dentistry did was hurt you. Besides, like Dustin Hoffman, I was a very good brusher.
Fast Forward to me – much wiser about myself and with a dental plan at work. It was time to conquer my Fear. Time to go back to the dentist.
So much of dentistry is all about holes; finding them, drilling them, filling them. So many holes, so little time. So while my smile was still bright enough, a lot of time had passed…it was time to do the right thing. My search for just the right doctor brought me to a gifted (and compassionate) dentist near the house. Having fully informed him of my path to his chair, we began our journey.
X-rays, cleanings, measurements, mappings and thoughtful consultations – all of which led us to a plan that involved pulling seven teeth with an eye to installing a gleaming partial that looked like my own. And once all of that was accomplished, my smile would last another 15 or 20 years. Apples would no longer need to be sliced in order to be enjoyed. “Let’s do this.”
And with that, we began. Granted, I shook, sweated and squirmed as little as I could. True, with each successive extraction, the holes where my enameled seven used to stand troubled me. But hey, I was working through it. I even got to the point where I was OK (enough) to walk around looking like one of the mountain-dew hillbillies I had so often looked down. After all, this was ‘just temporary’. The project to take care of myself, conquer my fear and restore my smile was underway. I was committed…what’s a missing canine or two?
And then, I lost my job.
No insurance. No money and I (of all people) was confronted with the reality of looking for work with holes when I smiled. It didn’t take long before I wasn’t smiling so much. My hands were forever coming up to cover my mouth and I felt – for the first time in my life – what it felt like to be on the other side of my disdain for people ‘like that’ – people who were now, me. But one morning not long ago, something totally unexpected came and smiled on me.
Since there was nothing I could do about my missing fangs, I slowly started experimenting with not being embarrassed about it. And yes, while there were some who gave me the flinchy look I used to give others, a funny thing happened on my way to myself. The less self-conscious I became, the less it seemed to bother the people I came in contact with.
Think about it. Have you ever been around an absolutely calm dog…that is, until you got all hyper? What happened? That’s right. Buster got all hyper too. Why? It came from you.
Me? I was still me and once people realized I was giving them permission to look past my infirmity, they saw I had a lot to offer. If my hole-y smile wasn’t troubling me, it didn’t seem to bother them either. Who knew?
My smile still has holes in it, but my ability to laugh and make others laugh has returned. Make no mistake, a day will come when I’m back in my new-found dentists chair and I’ll be able to complete my project of restoration and oral health.
But in the meantime, I’m grateful to be walking on the other side for awhile. It’s taught me compassion, grace and a renewed respect for not judging people like they were book covers.
If like me, you’ve got holes in your life, you’re already ahead of the game because you already have places to plant things…wonderful things…things that need holes just the size and shape of yours. If we can just stop and recognize the gift hiding inside our holes, we’re already half way home.
Got gaps? Go plant something. Before you know it, you’ll be better than ever and that’s the truth, the whole tooth and nothing but the Truth. So help me God.
“The greatest act of courage is to be and to own all of who you are—without apology, without excuses, without masks to cover the truth of who you are.”
– Debbie Ford
A must read: The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Brilliance, Creativity and Dreams. Source it at your local library, favorite book seller, online @ amazon or go directly to: http://store.debbieford.com/product_info.php?products_id=9
Humpty Dumpty: https://dan4kent.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/humpty-dumpty/
Photo Credits and Attributions: Mask Mash Up by dan4kent – Sources: Smiling Mask: http://educators.mfa.org/galleries/detail/2317, African Masks: http://blog.back2africa.com/2010/08/259/, Venetian Masks: http://www.pigseye.com/hj/foreign/italy/index.htm, Portrait and Smiling Moon Masks: http://www.coastraven.com/Wood-Carving/Masks/Portrait-Mask-and-Smiling-Moon-Mask/prod_182.html, Thai Masks by Patrizia Corsaro:
http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/Thailand/Central/Bangkok/Bangkok/photo275420.htm, Young Boy with Missing Teeth (B/W) by Jenna Muirhead: http://jennadailyphoto.blogspot.com/2011/04/hillbilly-teeth.html, Children Waiting at the Dentist (1918): Children wait at a free dental clinic in Lexington, 1918. (From the Dr. George M. Cooper Photograph Collection, PhC.41, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newcentury/5784, A Guy and His Braces; Posted by Scott Springer (modified): http://blog.partingscott.com/page/2.aspx, Dental X-Rays: http://studiocitycosmeticdentist.com/uncategorized/sherman-oaks-cosmetic-dentist-explains-dental-x-rays/, Smiling Mask – painting – by Caballero Salguero – Oil on table 43 x 22 cc  Copyright © Caballero Salguer: http://www.artwanted.com/imageview.cfm?ID=1070752, Teen Guy Smiling (modified): http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Think-Smiling-Is-Very-Attractive/1323854, Golden Toothbrush: http://www.likecool.com/Golden_Toothbrush–Grooming–Body.html, Dog Smiling: http://www.dogcentral.info/5-methods-dog-smiling/
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