Gap Defense

Orthodontists should not look like Denzel Washington. They just shouldn’t. And I mean this in the best way. Because I cannot have a man who looks, sounds (even down to his laugh), and just is Denzel Washington, tell me I need lower braces.

Orthodontists should look like Fred Flintstone.

The small gap in the left side of my lower front teeth wasn’t always there. In fact, when looking at photos of me before the age of twenty-two, the gap wasn’t there. Many think I already had braces. I didn’t. I was born with naturally very straight, very white, and apparently very resilient teeth. To this day, I haven’t had a cavity.

Then I had my wisdom teeth removed when I was twenty-one. They were impacted and I was told they needed to come out. I don’t know why. They weren’t causing me any pain and I could have lived forever without learning that I am allergic to Vicodin. So not only was my face the size and shape of a football, but I was also sick from pain pills that were supposed to help me.

And my lasting gift…the gap in my bottom teeth.

“Smile for me?” The dental assistant said. “Why are you here?” She asked.

“This gap right here.” I said, having to point it out.

“Oh, I didn’t even see that.” She replied. “The doctor will be in a few minutes.”

Most people don’t see the gap either. I am lucky in that it isn’t huge and it isn’t noticeable when I smile. It’s cleverly hidden behind my lower lip.

I had been dreading the orthodontist visit as much as I had been looking forward to it. The dread had nothing to do with cost, or the inevitable discomfort of having braces put on if I needed them. It was the actually being told that I needed them that had my apprehension growing.

I was pouting a little before I even went to the office because at my core, and as much as I hate to say it, there is a stubborn teenager in the back recesses of my brain saying “I do NOT! WILL NOT! Wear. Glasses. And. Braces! Hell to the no!”

I know I sound like a seventh grader getting ready for yearbook photos.

It so happens that I am not perfect.

I remember my mom having braces when I was around nine years old. I remember it because I got into my first fist fight over it.

The little twerp was in my fourth grade class, and I swear that he got a kick out of being mean to the other kids just because he could. It took him years to grow out of it (I think). We were never what you’d call “friends.”

The day started out like any other. I came to class and caught up on all of the fourth grade news with my friends, Amy and Jessica. Then I sat down with my glitter crayons and colored and read my Baby-Sitters Club books (good ‘ole Ann M. Martin) and readied myself for the day.

Then, the fourth grade twerp walked in and immediately began mocking my mom, putting bent paperclips over his teeth.

He must’ve seen my mom somewhere- either dropping me off or picking me up at school. Like I said, we weren’t “friends”, so it wasn’t as if the little puke had been to my house.

“Hey Melissa! Your mom’s a big metal mouth.”

This kid must have had some innate sense that making fun of my mother would tip me over the edge.

I wasn’t a violent kid, and I am not a violent adult. But if you want to see me go from calm and collected to a femme fatale, insult my family. I will become the Godfather with mixed Irish heritage from Michigan.

I confidently walked up to the fourth grade twerp and popped him one. A nice right jab into the side of his pudgy face.

I was nine and defending my mom was my top priority. And… luckily for me, we had our five millionth substitute teacher. Another person that didn’t know either of us and was not inclined to send us to the principal’s office because it was just too much work. Even if she had, I know I would have had my typical “game on” attitude as I always did when I defended someone, or something, I thought was right.

I recalled that yesterday when Dr. Denzel told me that I would need lower braces for a year. I can’t do Invisalign because I grind my teeth in my sleep.

I walked out to my car and thought, “crap. Just… crap.”

I thought seriously about crossing the street and going to the mall. See? Braces equal teenage reaction.

But I didn’t. I drove home to work on the class prep I needed to do for today.

I weighed the pros and cons of braces. How much did that small gap really bother me?

Enough. It bothers me enough.

My mom was older than I am now when she had braces and she managed just fine.

I don’t remember how she reacted at the time to my decking the fourth grade twerp. Today she kind of smirks like “yeah, that was my kid… defending her people ’til the end.”

I still need to think about this because I really don’t want glasses and braces. But the more I think about it, the less and less afraid I am.

The small gap might be one of those things that I just “have”.

My husband apparently doesn’t mind. It was there when we met, and it was there on my wedding day.

And I look like my mom, who has a brilliant smile.

Dr. Denzel told me that my smile is still “dazzling” (his word) with or without a small gap. Who am I to argue with an Oscar winner?

Besides, Madonna(!) has a famous gap in her teeth and she’s an international superstar.

My gap is something that only I notice as a “problem”. It is a sign of imperfection and sometimes, it is a sign of discontent. But I don’t stop smiling. I smile constantly. I laugh. I I flash a grin all the time. Even inwardly, as I think of decking the fourth grade twerp.

Maybe… just maybe… the gap is there to remind me of my strength and of those whom I defend.








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