Illustration of mouth with gap in teeth
Illustration: Vivienne Flesher
When is a flaw an embarrassment—and when is it an endearing part of you? Peggy Orenstein chews it over.
The closest I ever came to finding out what it would be like to have gigantic breasts was when I met the producer of a documentary film celebrating women with gappy teeth. When I smiled, his eyes popped like a Looney Tunes character's. For the rest of the conversation, they never left my mouth. I felt so exposed: If a shapeless sweater for teeth existed, I would have put it on.

In some cultures, gap teeth are considered the apex of female beauty, a sign of sexual appetite or God's favor. In this culture, I'd be lucky to be cast as an extra on a remake of The Beverly Hillbillies. I never really minded, though, until early in my marriage when my husband—the love of my life, the guy who promised to cleave to me until death do us part (or perhaps longer, since we were married by a Buddhist priest)—glanced up while I was gnawing on a lamb chop and said, "How do you chew with those things?"

The inside of my mouth instantly joined my jiggly upper arms, jelly belly, and pancake ass on the list of things that I would change about myself if I had a magic wand or a spare hundred thou. Since then, though, fixing your teeth has gotten easier, safer, and cheaper. There are lasers, veneers, whiteners, bonding. No longer do dentists grind otherwise good teeth to nubs to slap on crowns, sacrificing oral health for good looks. What could it hurt to check out the possibilities? After all, I highlight my hair. I wear contact lenses. I don't leave the house without mascara. How different was it, really, to fix my smile?

My dentist, who doesn't do cosmetics, recommended two colleagues. The first called himself the Transcendentist and promised an office environment "similar to a yoga studio." I chose the other one, a former UCLA basketball player named Derric DesMarteau who is mouth guy to the Oakland Raiders, the Golden State Warriors, and a bevy of college athletes whose teeth meet regularly with the floorboards. His office was festooned with game balls and signed jerseys, autographed shots of Raiderettes cheerleaders, and pictures of him with Magic Johnson and Tom Hanks.

And smiles. Lots and lots of smiles. Head shots of pretty people with near-phosphorescent teeth. Suddenly my steady diet of coffee, cola, and dark chocolate seemed a bad idea. I smiled through closed lips when Dr. DesMarteau came out to meet me. A good-looking guy, with a tan, craggy face, and spiky, subtly highlighted hair, he didn't flash a lot of enamel himself. I asked him to open wide so I could take a peek. His teeth were white, but not creepy. I was satisfied.

Once I'd settled into the world's most comfortable dentist chair, he snapped a quick digital photo of my mouth, projected it onto a TV screen, and asked, "What do you like about your smile?"


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