Nobody likes going to the doctor, spending your day in a vacuum-sealed, poorly lit waiting room filled with magazines from three years ago. Once you’re finally called in, you wait again in a cold examination room, sometimes stripped down to nothing but a paper dress while you freeze and stare at plump Anne Geddes baby portraits on the wall, finally you’re poked, prodded, and asked to pay before you dash out of there fast as you can. It’s terrible, but for me, even with all that awfulness, it still cannot compare to a trip to the dentist.
I happen to have an exceptionally small mouth, so the dentist is particularly painful for me, the x-rays alone leave my mouth bruised and sore. I went to a new dentist last week and unfortunately found out I have a cavity. Boo. Now I have to go back to the dentist tomorrow, and I’m not happy about it. The whole thing got me thinking about teeth though, and how they can make you self-conscious. It’s no secret that Americans have a thing for straight, whiter than white teeth, and one of the first thing that happens when someone gets famous, is the sudden appearance of a blindingly white, perfect smile.
Zac Efron, Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Catherine Zeta-Jones, 50 cent, that girl with the dreads on American Idol—have all had their smiles fixed up after hitting it big. We seem to hate seeing people with crooked teeth, probably because we’re supposed to try as hard as possible to be perfect, and that includes a smile that looks as generic and uniform as it can. When celebrities fight the pressure and choose to keep the smile they were born with—Anna Paquin, Lauren Hutton, even Madonna, it’s constantly pointed out as if they’ve done something exceptionally brave for keeping their own teeth, or we just make fun of them for it. I was trying to figure out if Kirsten Dunst has caved to the pressure, and the reports seem to be that she has, I hope it’s because Kirsten wanted to do it personally, not because her career has stalled.
Thinking about it, I feel like I rarely notice people’s teeth, maybe if they’re very distinctive in some way, but even trying to recall the teeth of those I know well seems difficult, because it doesn’t seem all that important. There are so many other interesting parts of the way someone interacts with others. It’ hard not to notice someone’s eyes because they often convey so much, and while a person’s smile can mean the world, I’ve witnessed some amazing smiles from people with less than perfect teeth, maybe their smiles were even more compelling because of it. I’ve always found something endearing about crooked or imperfect teeth, maybe it’s because I can relate.
My parents spent thousands of dollars on six years of orthodonture for me, so you’d think I would have a mouth full of lovely, straight teeth. Instead my orthodontist was going through an awful divorce when I was getting my braces off and lost the mold for my bottom retainer twice. Eventually he gave me a retainer which I’m positive wasn’t mine. It would pop out of my mouth when I opened it, had to be forced down over my teeth, and made me bleed whenever I wore it, it was nasty, painful, and didn’t do a damn thing since I couldn’t bring myself to wear it. As a result my bottom teeth are, as a dentist once sweetly put it, crooked “like a skull and cross bones”. My top teeth have remained fairly straight, because that retainer caused only moderate pain. I was pleasantly surprised that my new dentist didn’t mention that despite having braces for years I have a crooked smile. It’s sort of crazy that we are self-conscious of even our teeth, but when we are bombarded with images of straight, shiny, white, teeth everywhere we look, of course we see our own imperfect choppers as less than.
I’ve talked to dentists about having my teeth straightened again, and honestly it just doesn’t seem worth it. My major concern was my dental health, but I’ve been told over and over that my desire for straight teeth can only be justified as cosmetic, that having crooked teeth like mine, didn’t make them any less healthy. I know there are situations in which orthodonture is done due to a problem which needs fixing, or is causing pain, but for the most part, we don’t need teeth that appear perfect in order for them to be healthy.
Some might change their teeth because it’s a constant source of frustration, or because it is effecting their health, or just because it makes them more confident, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those reasons, but when I feel like I need to spend thousands of dollars to correct a row of teeth that is usually hidden, isn’t causing me any pain, and according to my dentist won’t cause any problems in the future, it strikes me that Americans might be a little too obsessed with perfect teeth. I think most people would even admit to being terrified of celebrities who go over board on whitening, the result being “chicklet teeth” (that means you Ryan Seacrest). It’s enough to make you wonder what we’re really trying to achieve with all this focus on conformity. What about a flawed smile is so offensive? Many beauty standards hide behind the idea of being “healthy” being thin for example, when really the truth is that certain people just don’t find extra chub or a yellow grin aesthetically appealing. If that is the case, then why give a damn?
So, if my dentist tells me I have very healthy teeth, and I’m only having my second ever (very small) cavity filled tomorrow, is there any reason to have my teeth fixed aside from feeling self-conscious about them? No, I don’t think so, and neither should anyone else. I don’t think we all need to look the same, and I think if asked, a lot of people would tell you they like their imperfections, including a gap in their teeth, because it sets you a part, and as long as you like it, why should it matter what anyone else thinks?