smile

The Case of the Missing Smile

By Dr. Nammy Patel

As a dentist, I meet all kinds of patients, each with a unique smile. Some are bubbly, talkative, and always smiling, but others are much more reserved, rarely speaking or smiling, and even reflexively covering their mouths when they smile or laugh. Why? Very often, these folks have lost their smiles because of self-consciousness about their teeth. One patient of mine is a chef, a dad of five, about forty years old, and a great guy. One day he told me, “I don’t like my smile. I’m embarrassed about it.” His teeth were yellow and chipped. They had white spots on them from having worn braces (and not taking good care of his hygiene when they were on). He described himself as feeling “dirty”—and he was tired of that feeling. We went for it; a total smile rejuvenation, with sixteen veneers. It was as if he’d dropped years off his looks, and his self-esteem soared as people reacted positively to his new appearance. 

Another new patient who came to see me very obviously had not been to a dentist in a long, long time. Bonnie’s teeth were discolored and crooked. She explained that she came from a poor background and her parents didn’t have the money to straighten her teeth. She’d been waiting for years to do something about it but was very shy and uncomfortable—embarrassed even—to have them examined. 

I put her into Invisalign aligners and the results were great. She was thrilled and told me she wanted to go with the full “Hollywood smile”—white and bright. I whitened her teeth with in-office whitening and then I reshaped some of the teeth with enameloplasty, a very easy and quick technique that lets me bring a slightly-too-large tooth down a bit in size or shape to match the teeth around it. When the teeth aren’t aligning properly, it’s pretty common that one tooth will be shorter than the other or there’ll be some jagged edges, and this lets us fix those little “mistakes.” 

Her transformation is something to see. Not just her smile, but her whole appearance, including the way she carried herself and interacted with the world around her improved. She has a magnetic, life-loving personality that had been hidden behind her self-consciousness, and over the year and a half that we worked to bring her new smile into being, we saw that personality bloom. When she came to us initially, she wasn’t dating anyone and was clearly ill at ease with those around her. Within a few months, as the aligners did their work, she confided that she was “seeing someone” and was pretty happy about that. Her personal style, even her walk, proclaimed a new pride and sense of self: “I’m present. I’m happy. I’m comfortable with who I am.” 

The biggest life journey is being comfortable with who we are. Seeing those transformations—not just how the smile looks to others but also how the people with new, beautiful smiles feel about themselves—is one of the most satisfying things about my work.

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