Photo: Getty Images
By: Kristina Hammer
In our culture, it means everything to have a perfect smile. Mouths are one of the first focal points on the human body our eyes are drawn to, almost instinctively, since speech is the main form of communication we use.
Society defines one’s natural state of beauty in part by our facial features. A lot of unnecessary emphasis is placed on the value of a great looking smile. Any damage or malformation to the composing structures significantly impacts the worth: lips, teeth, tongue, jaw bone and palate are all factors in determining the level of perfection.
Not everyone is blessed with good genetics, though, and not are all the people entitled to free dental care, which means maintaining a beautiful smile is a daily battle for the majority of our citizens. It creates a whole slew of self-esteem and insecurity issues based on this romanticized ideal of beauty encapsulating the perceptions we form of ourselves and others.
People can be very shallow when it comes to picking a life partner. Many relationships have ended after revealing one wears partials or dentures, though they’re far too young to qualifying for the Senior Discount at the local diner. Men, especially, are typically disgusted and adversely turned off by a woman with a crooked smile more so than an imperfect body frame.
More often than not, there’s a direct association between poor oral aesthetics and illicit drug use. That isn’t always the case, though. There are many reasons why people have unappealing mouths besides crack cocaine and methamphetamine use — from prescription medications to bacterial infections, bad oral hygiene to chronic disorders, and everything in between.
With a lack of coverage by health insurance providers, today’s dental care is often more like a luxury item for some people. Couple that with the bad-for-your-body foods and beverages our nation is obsessed with, and you have millions of people out there desperately wishing they could afford to maintain a perfect smile. Like me.
I would trade numerous other body parts in exchange for a healthy mouth that smiles beautifully.
My poor husband is stuck with an almost completely toothless wife who was in need of dentures before the age of 30. I’m not talking just one or two teeth that needed to be pulled; over 90 percent of my teeth have been pulled. There are only a few bottom front teeth left in my mouth. Because of that, I’m the far from the stereotypical image of beauty.
Looking this way I do has done a number on my psyche over the past year-and-a-half. I’m one loose thread away from unraveling at the seams with embarrassment and shame. Dentures aren’t covered on my menial dental plan and I can’t afford them out of pocket.
I was first diagnosed with weak teeth because of a genetic disorder that causes my body to hog my calcium intake in order to form bone spurs along my spinal column. Then, to top it all off, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum all nine months of each of my four pregnancies. The constant throwing up only bathed my already weak teeth in stomach acid over and over again.
Brushing my teeth after each puke session only stopped the acid from continuing to eat away at the enamel, but it couldn’t prevent the acid from coming in contact with my teeth and working its magic in the first place. Within a year of my last child’s birth, I began losing my teeth at an alarming rate until there were only a few remaining.
Now, almost five years later, I’m left to feel the consequences of having a very imperfect smile while living in a culture that’s obsessed with beauty.
It’s quite obvious when talking to me that I’m missing the majority of my pearly whites, and people find it hard not to stare. It’s like being a piece of abstract art on display in a museum: people squint and scrunch to try and figure out just what they’re looking at. By all other appearances, I don’t present myself like the typical dope fiend — and of course, I’m not — but that’s the only thing strangers presume to be true.
My self-esteem drops a smidgen more with every tooth I’ve had to have pulled. It has been a hard reality to swallow at such a young age. I find myself caught in the whirlwind of stereotypes and ideal,sating my own ego down as if it’s to blame for losing my beauty — one painful, rotted tooth at a time.
I’ve tumbled down a slippery path of fear and self-loathing and have consciously withdrawn from society and taken shelter, hidden away from prying eyes and sideways looks cast from scornful, presumptuous faces.
Yet, against all the stereotypes that are gnawing away at my confidence and self-esteem, my husband still remains by my side. He still thinks I’m beautiful and makes sure I know it. He doesn’t let one tiny genetic failure define how he sees me or his own perception of beauty.
I’m more than my appearance to my husband. I’m more than what society tells him he should value in me. I’m his best friend, his wife, and the mother of his children, and he’s attracted to the woman who has taken on each of those roles with grace and dignity.
My husband fights every day to show me I’m worth something beyond the smile which has faded from my face. I may not feel it myself, but knowing he’s still attracted to me lifts me, encourages me, and gives me hope.
It takes a very special person to love someone so broken on the outside and inside. He has stayed by my side when I really expected him to want to go.
My husband could have found my looks as disgusting and unappealing as the rest of the world, but he didn’t. He chose to look past my deformity and love me regardless of looking different. That, in and of itself, is the epitome of a very good man.
What luck that was lost on my teeth surely was made up for in the man I call my husband. Though I still struggle to accept my own fate, I have found the strength to persevere because of the man by my side. He’s the reason I still look in the mirror and smile my gummy grin in private because I’m determined to find the will to love myself and be confident in my appearance once again.
Even if I’m an aberration of beauty, I’m still a beautiful soul.
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