“Does it bother you?” My dentist asked me. I looked closely into the hand mirror and zoomed in on my teeth, specifically honing in on my front two teeth. My view had narrowed down to those two milky white rectangular teeth that seemed to be close together at the root and then, as if some invisible power seemed to be pushing them apart, there was undeniably, a gap. I stared morosely at my teeth, the gap becoming wider and wider in my mind as I stared longer and harder. I couldn’t help it! They seemed like an anomaly that took away from the beauty of what I believed a perfect smile should look like. A dazzling kind of smile which I always wanted; the kind of smile that I often saw on models, TV advertisements and on magazine covers. Why couldn’t I have perfect teeth and a flawless smile?
Has anyone mentioned anything about your gap? Or asked you about it?”
I was shaken out of my miserable thoughts by my dentist’s calm voice. I realised in that precise moment that no one had ever remarked about this anomaly in my teeth, or if they had noticed, they had been kind enough to not mention it. When I replied in the negative, my dentist, Dr. Sarina Marfatia smiled at me and said that maybe it only bothered me because it was all in ‘my head’.
Dr. Sarina perched herself comfortably on a high chair, and with a slight smile that lifted one corner of her mouth, she explained to me in her soft voice that my gap was called a ‘diastema’. A diastema is space between teeth which is caused by an imbalance in the relationship between the jaw size and the size of the teeth. The ‘gap’ was a result of the labial frenulum (lip tissue) which pushes the teeth apart and creates a gap between the two front teeth.
I took in all of this and felt resigned about having a lip tissue that didn’t know how to fit in without being too conspicuous. An imbalance in the relationship between my jaw and teeth! Why did I have an overgrowth of tissue that created this gap? It was because of this godforsaken gap that I never smiled widely in any picture. My ‘gap’ always bothered me because it snagged my attention whenever I saw it in any of my photographs.
I had to scan through a gazillion photos to find pictures where my front two teeth are visible, or now what I like to call ‘my lucky gap’ 😀
Was this genetic? I enquired of my dentist and she said that teeth and jaw bone structures run in the family. That’s when I remembered my grandmother telling me that I have my great-grandfather’s smile. He had a prominent gap in his front teeth that was hard to miss when he smiled. I had never seen my great- grandfather in person because he passed away long before I was born and unfortunately the only picture that I have seen of him is a sombre one, so seeing his toothy grin was out of question. I wondered why only I of all my 9 other family members had inherited this ‘gap’?
“Can you remove this gap for me?” I asked Dr. Sarina with hope, silently praying that this correction wouldn’t cost a fortune or be too painful. Dr. Sarina looked aghast, as if I had asked her to pull out a perfectly healthy tooth, so I rushed in to fill the shocked silence by reiterating, “uh, you see, actually the gap bothers me”, and when she still continued to stare at me unblinking, I added, “I mean it bothers me a bit and it would be great if you could remove the gap.”
“Why would you even think of that?” Dr. Sarina’s tone rose with incredulity.
I didn’t know how to respond to my dentist, but she wasn’t waiting for a response, I realised belatedly, as she continued to express her astonishment.
“You have such a beautiful smile! It’s prettier than any of those corrected perfect smiles that I see on models. Your smile is real, it’s so you! And that gap is supposed to be lucky, why would you even think of filling it? It’s like saying no to your good fortune.”
Now that reaction was surprising to say the least! Surely Dr. Sarina must have come across many such requests for cosmetic correction. I was genuinely surprised to see such a strong response from my dentist who was almost always placid and calm. Even when I had cried, created a spectacle, and insisted on holding my mother’s hand for the entire duration of my root canal in grade 6, she hadn’t looked this disapproving and disappointed as she looked now. What also caught my attention was her remark about the gap being lucky.
My grand mom too spoke about the gap in my teeth being a sign of good luck, but my overtly rational mind refused to accept such physiognomic assessment as believable. In my mind, such talk could only be relegated to pacifying tactics that we humans resort to, to make ourselves feel good about an oddity. Hearing the same remark from my dentist about the gap being ‘lucky’ made me curious to find out more about the cultural significance and meaning of this gap. Why was it lucky?
Throughout my drive back home, I wondered, did the gap really bother me that much that I wanted to surgically remove it, or wear braces or get a tooth-coloured composite to fill the gap? That single conversation with my dentist about the gap in my teeth made me uncomfortably aware about my anxiety related to beauty and self-love. If I couldn’t appreciate my own smile, how would I ever be able to project the vibe and aura of a woman comfortable in her own skin?
What troubled me even more was that my dentist saw my gap as a unique feature that beautified my smile but I saw it as an unattractive aberration that detracted from my beauty. I mulled over this for quite some time and then decided to Google Diastema.
I came across several articles on BuzzFeed, Elle Magazine, The Speaking Tree, Dailyhunt and a wordpress blog that spoke about the beauty of ‘the gap’. I was pleasantly surprised and even pleased to note that I belonged to the rare 20% of the human population that was born with a gap between their two front teeth. In fact, to my amazement, I learnt that so many cultures celebrated this gap! The French call it “dents du bonheur”, which literally translates to “lucky teeth”. It seemed like the Indian culture is not the only one that considers this gap to be lucky.
Each article reified my dentist’s opinion that diastema was not a flaw, but a unique feature. The blogpost titled ‘There is beauty in a gap tooth’ (https://ugotreasure.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/there-is-beauty-in-a-gap-tooth/) gave me an insight into the African culture where women with diastema were regarded as beautiful and desirable. It was believed that a woman with ‘the gap’ possessed sexual appeal and beauty. Something about that tiny space right in the middle of the upper teeth made it the most desirable feature in a woman. I couldn’t help but think that I had grown up on some very lopsided ideas about beauty.
As I poured over several articles on the internet, I began to realise how outlandish and outmoded my own notion of beauty was. If I was this misguided about the standards of beauty, I am sure there must be other young women out there who like me, berate themselves for a feature they were born with.
I recalled the many instances where my friends bemoaned their swarthy skin, short and rounded nose, full hips, a birth mark or a thin upper lip. For me, it was the gap between my teeth which had become a feature I constantly tried to hide by covering it with my hand when I laughed. I was always worried and conscious that if I smiled too widely in front of the camera, my unattractive gap would be exposed.
I got up from my bed, strode towards the mirror and smiled wide enough to show my teeth and for the first time in the twenty six years of my life, I began to see my smile from a new perspective.
In that precise moment, I realized how utterly silly I had been in trying to hide a unique feature that defined me, a feature that I had inherited from my great- grandfather, a legacy that lived with me and would be perpetuated through my progeny.
Rather than feel proud about my unique and supposedly even ‘lucky’ gap, I chose to hide it and remove it in a desperate attempt to ‘fit in’ with the norms of beauty that I had concocted in my head. The myth about beauty which is further fanned by social media had become a blueprint in my mind about how my smile should look. Perhaps, for the first time, I truly began to realise that beauty was in the eye of the beholder! My perspective had begun to shift and I began to accept that my smile was different but alluring nonetheless.
Some articles on the net even urged people like me to be proud about our gap because it claimed that people with this feature were intelligent, creative, lively, talkative, confident, courageous, never one to balk in the face of a challenge and are risk takers. The Africans even associated this feature with beauty and fertility. Career- wise too, we were touted to be super successful because of the lucky gap in our teeth! Such a positive spin on diastema definitely made my day and helped me to love and accept my gap, or what I would now like to call my lucky gap!
I decided to make a conscious effort to smile uninhibitedly and laugh more often and that too with abandon. Slowly as every day passes by, I learn to love my smile a little more. There are days when I look longingly at Kinjal’s perfect teeth but I gently remind myself of this particular quote that instantly makes me feel better – “What makes you different makes you beautiful.”
When I visited Dr. Sarina for my follow-up, she asked me if I wanted to correct the diastema. In response, I smiled widely, flashing my lucky gap and said, “You were right, I like my smile just the way it is. It’s so uniquely me. I’m never getting rid of it!”
While I drove back home from the clinic, I heard Bruno Mars, croon to one of my absolute favourite songs- ‘Just the way you are’ on 94.3 Radio One. I sang along with him, bobbing my head and tapping my hand in sync with the upbeat music. It was with the widest of smiles that I sang this specific line- ‘And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while, cause girl you’re amazing, just the way you are….’
Oscar Wilde was cent percent right when he said- “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance!” With that drive back home, I had finally embarked on a lifelong journey to love myself and my lucky gap.