“Dents du bonheur” (happiness teeth) as the French call them, are what dominated my expression every time I smiled and laughed as a young girl. I did not consider the most prominent teeth in my mouth to be “happy”! I was gapped-toothed with a slight overbite until the age of 14, painfully shy, and covered my mouth when I grinned. Somehow the photographer for our eigth grade class photos managed to get me to smile with hands folded in my lap.
By the time I was a sophomore in high school in 1962, my parents thought it best to sent me to an oral surgeon that summer to remove the tough, muscular webbing forcing my two front teeth apart (diastema). I got up out of the dental chair wearing an awkward dental appliance to wear day and night to slowly coerce my two front teeth back and together. I still remember the sensations of pain and pressure, popping that pink, hard-molded acrylic into the roof of my mouth, the metal bar sliding over my teeth. I only took it out to brush it and my teeth, and to eat. At the start of my junior year, while taking a lunch break as I worked on a project in the art room, I slipped out my retainer and quickly wrapped it in a piece of paper towel from off the roll by the sink. I remember the sinking feeling, then panic, at home later that night, the moment I said, “Oh, no! What did I do with my “bite plate?!” I rushed back to school the next morning to rummage through the trash, but it was not to be found. My parents couldn’t afford to replace it. That was the last I saw of my retainer, which left me with a lasting, although ever so slight, twist to my left front tooth – the kind of subtle difference one feels when you slide your tongue across your teeth. But like everything in life as I was discovering, things are rarely, if ever, “perfect”.
Over time, the habit of covering my mouth eventually stopped and I became less and less self-conscious; shyness took much longer to overcome. As a youth, I let something as small as the space between my two front teeth take up significant space in my life. I wish I had met happy gap-toothed kids along the way. I might have understood that it was okay to be different, I could be happy being “me”. As I matured, I grew to appreciate inner beauty and countenance more than physical appearance, with a growing awareness of my own.
The beautiful actress Amanda Seyfried shares a similar experience growing up:
“I was super-outgoing until I was around 10. I got a bit older and started getting shy. Way too shy. I felt so extremely ugly. When I look back, I was not ugly …I was cute and had a gap in my teeth. But I wish I could have enjoyed that part of my life and be more confident.”
Other gap-toothed women known for their unique beauty are Anna Paquin, Lauren Hutton, Condoleezza Rice, Brigitte Bardo, Esther Rolle, Madonna, Natalie Cole…. I imagine that for many of these women and men, it never dawned on them when they were young that they were pretty or handsome. For others, what makes them different may be their eyes, their nose, their ears, their height, their disability…. We have an opportunity to reflect back to each one we meet what makes them uniquely special, even beautiful.
If you have a similar experience, please share it with us. Leave a comment.