“Why don’t you smile?” The woman in the supermarket bent down in my eight-year old face. She was smiling broadly as if I needed to be shown what a smile was. I was standing next to my mother flipping through baseball cards when subjected to this interruption. Who are you, and why are you bothering me?
This was the story of my childhood. I regularly had people tell me to smile more, ask me why I don’t smile, and tell me jokes to get me to smile. I occasionally gave a fake smile to shut them up. I would have rather told them to leave me the hell alone.
The more people would ask me to smile, the angrier I became. There wasn’t some deep dark secret – I ate regularly, my parents didn’t beat me, and I had friends – so what could I answer? Would they want to know that this was my natural facial expression? My serious look wasn’t a conscious thing. I was born that way. Is that a problem? Am I hideous? Go bother your own child.
In many ways, I was a typical 14-year-old boy. I was obsessed with sports. I was interested yet confused about girls. I could eat pizza for every meal. I had pimples. I was overly concerned with what others thought of me. And I had crooked teeth.
But not that crooked. Plus, my parents were going through some tough financial times. So, I didn’t get braces.
So, I was a teen with crooked teeth who rarely smiled.
A few years ago, my dentist suggested I visit a periodontist. I had to have some work done. Don’t worry – I’ll spare you the details. A couple of years later, I had to go to the periodontist again. This was despite my increased diligence in brushing and more regular flossing (though I still hated it).
Part of the issue was my crooked teeth. They were hard to take care of. Tired of the expensive visits to the periodontist, I asked my dentist for a suggestion on how to proceed. He said I would be a good candidate for Invisalign.
Uhh – what? You know invisible braces? Braces? I’m in my 40’s, and you want me to get braces? Hasn’t that boat sailed?
The next thing you know I’m in the waiting room at Lieberman & Jain Orthodontics in Saddle Brook, NJ. I sat among tweens and teens and their parents as I waited to hear my name called. Awkward! I wished I had brought one of my sons along!
Despite the awkwardness, the appointment went fine, and I was on my way to straight teeth. Well, that’s what the doctors told me, at least. I chose to believe them. After the first few months, Dr. Lieberman was less semi-retired and mostly just retired. So, I started seeing Dr. Jain.
For over a year, I saw Dr. Jain every 6th Monday at 8:45 a.m. I stuck to the early appointment – no waiting, and I was able to avoid the teen/tween crowd that took over after school hours. I actually saw other adults in the waiting room!
Because of the lengthy time of treatment – my teeth needed a good deal of work – I got to know Dr. Jain (I also got to know the staff. Thanks for your patience, professionalism and pleasantries, Kathy.) We shared stories of our families, our cultures, our jobs, and more. Going in to see Dr. Jain was like hanging out with a friend. Well, except the fact that most of my friends don’t put on gloves and stick their hands in my mouth. Odd, I know.
By the way, the woman loves her job! She was excited to show me pictures of how my teeth had moved and was happy to answer every question and explain every procedure.
Now, it’s over. I’m getting fitted for my last Invisalign which I’m supposed to wear every night for the rest of my life. That might sound intimidating to some, but I got so used to them that I don’t mind.
And now I have no excuses not to smile. Well, except I still have a serious look
I’m working on it. I’m working on it