‘How I learned to love my teeth’

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What happens when your teeth become your defining feature? Writer Gina Clarke describes how she learned to love her own distinctive set…

I grew up with pretty much ‘normal’ teeth. 

Like most teenagers, at some point, there was talk about braces, but I put my foot down. I was perfectly happy with my teeth and I didn’t want to risk being teased at school over wearing braces.

A little ironic, then, that less than a year later, I managed to almost knock a tooth clean out of my mouth.

It was the first summer that I’d been allowed to ride a bike by myself with some friends.

I was 10 years old. There was a long, straight road nearby that had little traffic and was perfect for racing the boys over the road.

Unfortunately, I was going through my, ‘I don’t want to tie my laces’ stage, and the faster I peddled, the more my shoes became tangled. 

With a screech, I crashed over the handlebars and dramatically chipped my front right tooth.

The blood soon stopped, but then the many visits to the dentist started. Every few months, I’d have a bright white cap put on.

It felt bumpy and was a whole shade different to the colour of my natural teeth, meaning it was glaringly obvious I was rocking a cap on my most prominent tooth.

As well as becoming my defining feature, the cap was also easily removed.

Carrots, a particularly crunchy apple and the odd toffee all managed to pull it clean off. There was no pain, but many a morning missed for a dental appointment.

By the time I’d reached my teenage years, I’d had enough of my worrying about part of my tooth flying off. 

I was far too busy forming very important opinions about the world and becoming more comfortable in who I was as a person.

I was certainly more strong-minded, and worrying about something as small as a tooth cap was starting to seem silly.

I lost the cap and practiced in the mirror to find different ways to make my front teeth less prominent. And so, my crooked smile was born.

It was very scientific. A slight dip of the chin, a twist of the head and I would leave my top teeth to ‘rest’ on my bottom lip. 

This ensured a megawatt smile with no clue that I had different-sized front teeth.

For a time, this quick reaction got me through every event. 

Birthdays, Christmas and even prom, I had the same crooked smile on my face. I thought I’d cracked it.

Only once I got to university I found myself in front of the camera far more, and suddenly I was bored of my smile. 

It was sickeningly sweet and made me look young. Something an 18-year old with impractical clothing could do without. 

And so, in my final step towards empowering myself to living a freer life, I decided to ditch the crooked smile for good and embrace my chipped smile as part of my identity.

Now I’m in my 30s and my love for my unique smile is firmly in place.

Finding the strength to realise that my teeth were a story and part of my personality as opposed to something to be ashamed of was liberating.

I love that they’re a symbol of being wild, carefree and determined to beat the boys in a bike race. 

I’ve embraced my teeth as a part of who I am and I’m happy to have a smile with a story behind it. 

These days I grin with pride when I look back on those days spent whizzing around on my bike.

Only now I wish I’d listened to my Mum and tied my laces.

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