A safe space



My dentist is a bitch. Not because she pokes around in the nooks of my mouth like they’re the dusty creases of an empty Cheezels bag, or because she makes me wear speed-dealer sunnies while staring at photos of her family at the snow, but because when I was 11 years old, she profoundly shifted my self-image for the worse with nine little words: “You know, we could fix that if you wanted.”

Up until that moment, I was super-proud of my tooth gap. I thought it was rad! My dad was the main driver behind my unwavering love for it. I remember sitting at the petrol station while we waited to fill up our car and seeing an ad featuring a model who was also blessed with a gap between her two front teeth. My dad said he reckoned she could fit a two-dollar coin between them. I asked what kind of coin he thought I could fit between mine. He reckoned maybe a 20-cent coin. I checked, of course, when he left to pay. A 20-cent coin barely fit! Boo! I wanted a two-dollar gap!

I remember thinking I was truly lucky to have that space between my teeth. People told me it meant I’d have ‘good luck’, but I actually thought I was blessed by the face gods. How pedestrian to have teeth that lined up one after the other. I wanted to show off my incredible asset to anyone who’d make eye contact with me.

In my school photos, I look like I’m practicall­y begging the photograph­er to notice the abyss between my teeth.

So, when my dentist nonchalant­ly mentioned I could get my teeth “fixed”, I had no idea why she’d even mention it. I instantly told her I didn’t want to, but it was one of those comments that stayed deep inside a drawer in my mind, filed away to decipher at a later date. As it turned out, that date was perfectly timed with the start of puberty, and my mouth was firmly clamped shut for the next stage of my life. My gap was officially gross. From then on, I only smiled with my mouth closed and laughed with my hand covering my dental ravine.

Eventually I realised that smiling with my mouth closed made me look kind of dead inside, but I had another trick to hide my gap-toothed smile that came about by accident. We were huddled in my friend’s bedroom during a party, tipsy off the sweetest apple cider I could persuade my dad to buy (because I was wayyyyy too cool for guava mixers, puh-lease). Someone got out their brick of a digital camera and took a group shot. Due to the angle of my face, you couldn’t see the gap in my teeth, even though I was smiling with my mouth open. Jackpot! For the next 10,000 photos in which I featured, I turned my head so you could only see one half of my mouth.

Even now, I struggle to look at a camera face-on. My neck automatica­lly turns five degrees to the right, just to take the edge off the gap. It’s hardwired into me, even though I’ve finally come round to liking my teeth and the negative space surroundin­g them. I think blissfully naive, super-confident, seven-year-old Emily had the right idea. I imagine myself with regularly spaced teeth and I get so bored of my face. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to leave cool marks when biting into apples!

So, if you picked up this magazine in a dentist’s waiting room, DO NOT listen to them. Unless, you know, your teeth are falling out, dead or on fire. OK, maybe listen to your dentist – but not if they offer to “fix” your gap. In that case, just pass them this article and tell them the gap is pretty great, actually.

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