I Want a Confident Smile
By Gretchen Voss
Round two with braces — and thankfully, no zits — this time gives Gretchen
Voss something to grin about.
"Dude, you need to fix your teeth." That's what Booth, one of my
closest college friends — a no-nonsense fashion critic whose job it is to note
the aesthetically nasty, whose nature it is to name it aloud — slurred at me
late one night last year. Hideous, right?
Actually, I was thrilled. Seriously. (And not just because I was
punch-drunk.) I was sick of dithering — worried that I was frivolously buying
into some aging prom-queen vanity — over whether or not to get braces. This was
objective confirmation, in all its gimlet-eyed harshness, that I was justified
in plunking down more than two grand (insurance would cover the other $2000) on
myself, when there was a voracious family in a starving economy to cater
Truth was, my smile had melted into the moue of a crazed jack-o'-lantern.
Maybe it was all that smoking in my younger years; maybe it was all that
breeding in my recent years; maybe it was simply crap genes. But in the year
since I had last seen Booth, my teeth — the ramrod-straight soldiers that four
years of adolescent orthodontia buys — had rebelled. The top row of chompers
splayed mutinously, while the front two parted ways, leaving an empty chasm —
more snaggletooth Shih Tzu than chic Lauren Hutton — in which my tongue once
got stuck. Still, until that night, I mucked around in indecision. Was I being
silly and superficial? This was new terrain: Beauty, for me, had never been
some angsty, hard-won battle. I wore my looks easily, comfortably, mainly
because I liked them. But suddenly I didn't feel pretty. I cringed at photos —
then stopped taking them altogether. Silly or not, I was sick of rendering
Although the latest survey from the American Association of Orthodontists
reports more than 1.1 million adults treated annually (a 33.5 percent increase
from a decade ago), I was definitely the only latte drinker in the packed
waiting room of the orthodontist my 13-year-old, neon-pink-rubber-banded
babysitter recommended. Undeterred, I marched into his office and plunked down
pre-splay photos: blissfully manic smiles at my wedding and openmouthed guffaws
with my friends. The doc was incredulous. That was me just last year, I
insisted. That is me.
The physical pain that April morning was nothing. (Then again, unlike most
drama tweens, I had childbirth as a comparison.) After the good doc glued clear
(though not invisible) ceramic brackets on my top teeth (old-school silver
shiners covered the bottom), my husband grabbed me that night and playfully
leered, "Wanna make out, braceface?" I mean, really, it was hilarious:
37 years old and slicing corn off the cob and avoiding egg salad and balling up
bits of wax to cover the stabby intruders. Of course, it wasn't always funny.
Take the day I played tennis with some fancy acquaintances at a local country
club. One lame flub of the ball — which then careened into my face — and my
whites bled red. Pride, shredded cheeks — it all hurt.
Six months in and with two months to go, I'm cool with it. Sure, I wear more
eye makeup and less lipstick, and I absolutely miss red wine and curry and
coffee-without-consequence (those clear rubber bands stain!). Flossing is a
nightmare, as is hauling a toothbrush out and about (though not as bad as
forgetting it, especially after a meal involving spinach).
Mostly, though, I just feel fortunate to be able to buy my way back to the
pretty. As my orthodontist says, I have a big smile. I've missed it. You can't
tell a proper dirty joke without one.