Secret Smile

I never open my mouth when I smile. Twenty-three years of painful and largely fruitless orthedontia, periodontistry, and destristry have left me (and my parents) thousands of dollars poorer, and without a smile worth showing.

This bums me out. And not just because everyone’s whitening and getting all cosmetic. It bums me out because it’s just one more example of the fact that the older one gets, and the more money one makes, the more difficult and costly it becomes to maintain one’s health and appearence. That and, ok, I’d like to have a Hollywood smile.

It’s a long story, one you’ve probably heard at least portions of before. But I have to retell it every time I go to in for a cleaning, or some new procedure.

Long story short, I have weird genes. I’m missing a bunch of adult teeth. So when I was ten, a bunch of baby teeth were pulled so they could scrunch the rest of ’em together with orthedontia. For a while in there I had a retainer with prosthetic teeth on it. I broke it so many times, though, that I had to use Fixodent to keep it in. That was embarassing. Then I had braces which were rediculously painful and looked terrible. When I was seventeen, just a few days before my junior prom, the braces were removed, Maryland bridges were installed, and I had a perfect smile. Three weeks later my jaw was broken and wired shut for the summer. Back to square one.

After eight weeks wired shut, followed by three years and a fistfull of oral surgeries later, I — not surprisingly — had acquired a drug addiction and a major aversion to orthodontists, periodontists, and dentists. I stayed away for over ten years.

Within the last three years, I’ve spent approximately $15,000 on my teeth. Not that you’d ever notice. It’s all foundational stuff: molars, implants. It’s all in the background. Meanwhile, I still have a retainer that was supposed to last three years. And I still have those Maryland bridges that were supposed to last five. And my teeth look like I’ve been drinking coffee for twenty years because, well, I have been.

So, this morning I’m sitting in the chair and the new dental assistant guy is cleaning my teeth and he’s all like, “What’s up with your mouth?” Of course, I’ve got suction going on, and he’s poking my gums and such, so I slur through all the apparatus, “Genes.”

After poking, prodding, scrubbing, scratching and generally torturing me every way possible, the assistant was done with me. I flipped through Esquire Magazine as I was waiting for my dentist (good guy, really) to check me out. Now, I generally get little more than snarky quips and fashion tips, but there was was a little bit of synchronicity going on today. I paused on an article called, “A Clean Mind.”

It turns out you can’t be in the zone if your jaw is hooked. Think of [Michael] Jordan’s tongue wagging or A-Rod yawning at the plate. “Ali lost his mouthguard constantly [performance coach Jim Fanning] says, “because his jaw was loose and unhinged during the most heated moments of a fight.

My jaw, in contrast, has been locked since I was seventeen. I’ve broken teeth from gnashing them together in my sleep. I wake up sore. It cracks when it’s cold. It’s constantly hinged. Which may be, come to think of it, yet another reason why I like singing. And running. ‘Cuz I gotta’ open my mouth. I gotta’ open up.

He gets me to stand up, close my eyes, think a negative thought, and drop my chin to my chest. He makes me hold it there, then raise my head until I’m facing the ceiling. I repeat this three times. Strangely, I can no longer remember what I had been thinking about. “You reboot your brain,” he says. “When you look up, your chin goes past parallel to the ground, the negative thought is released.

It’s as simple as that. Just keep your chin up.

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