I think I've forgotten how to smile.
For the last seventeen years — that's a third of my life — my front teeth have had the texture of a moonscape. Uneven, cratered, forbidding. My old dentist had filled some cavities but matched the color poorly, leaving me with a mottled appearance that has discouraged me from exposing those teeth.
Seventeen years ago I was scheduled to have the problem corrected, but I had to cancel that appointment because I had an emergency appendectomy. It took me until this spring, and it took an intensely painful wisdom tooth, to get me back into a dentist's chair.
During those seventeen years I've developed the habit of smiling with my mouth closed, or partially closed. Or not smiling at all. So when Dr. G told me this morning that he was about to give me my smile back, my reaction was that I didn't know what to do with it. I'll have to work on the facial muscles, because I'm sure a normal smile doesn't use the same muscles used to pull your upper lip down over your front teeth.
But I'll also have to work on the smile reflex itself. When you smile the way I've grown used to, with your mouth mostly closed, it looks more bemused and sardonic than genuinely joyful and ecstatic. I'm not sure I know how to flash a natural smile that won't creep people out. I'll have to practice at home on my own before I show it off in public. Alas, what it usually takes to make me smile isn't something I find when I'm home alone. It's lucky for me that the people who bring a smile to my face are the same ones who don't judge me on anything quite so superficial. (Not that they'll cut me any slack if they find me in the awkward situation of practicing smiling as if I'm working on a skill that'll win me an Olympic medal, or maybe an Oscar.)