“Okay, let’s give a big smile in one, two…” The photographer pauses on three as I remain perfectly still. Not even one muscle on my face pulls back to reveal my teeth.
“Are you going to smile? You only get one ninth grade school photo in your life,” he said.
“I don’t like to smile,” I quickly replied.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, he shrugged his shoulders and took my photo. This is my most-hated day of the year. Whenever I see a camera, I turn the other way. It’s just that I’m so embarrassed of my smile. My teeth…they’re, well, crooked to say the least. On top of that, my gums are always so swollen and in pain, which is the biggest distraction throughout the school day. That’s if you don’t account for the distraction of my classmates who constantly tease me about it.
“They call me ‘serious Sam,’ because I never smile. I’ll do anything to hide my teeth. I’ll even cover my mouth when I talk.”
Last year, when my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said “new teeth.” I could see tears in my mom’s eyes, because we’ve had this conversation before.
“I know, Sam”, she quietly said. “It’s just that…” she briefly pauses. “We can’t afford dental work. Especially since your dad lost his job. It’ll be a few more months before we can get our health insurance back. So, for now, try to be patient. We’ll fix your teeth, I promise.”
“That’s what you said last time,” I thought to myself.
These conversations always made me so angry. I just wanted to look normal. But, I knew it wasn’t their fault. My parents loved me and did everything they could to make ends meet.
I’ve always had gum pain, but this year, it was really bad. After school, when my mom and dad were at work, I’d come home and hold ice against my cheeks. That seemed to be the only thing that’d slightly help. The pain had become so bad that I couldn’t really brush my teeth at all – because the aching would actually make me cry.
Recently my dad had found a new job, but of course, “dental” wasn’t included in his health insurance package, so, like all the times before, I had to wait.
One Tuesday morning before school, I couldn’t take it anymore. My mouth hurt so, so bad that I couldn’t control the tears. I burst into the kitchen where my mom and dad were making breakfast, crying so hard they could barely understand me. Eventually, I was able to explain what was going on with my mouth. They knew it was bad, but hadn’t realized it was so painful for me.
They both called off work and took me to a dentist in town. I was there for hours as the dentist and his assistants studied my teeth and gums. I could hear them speaking to my parents in the hall, and my eyes widened as I heard the doctor whisper, “It’d be about $27,000 to fully repair your son’s mouth.”
He continued, “The lack of dental care and dental hygiene is causing your son to suffer from severe oral infections, which is also causing him a lot of pain.”
“Infections…?” I thought to myself. The word made me really scared.
“We just can’t afford that,” my dad said. “It’s more than I make in a year.”
“It’s literally over half of our annual income,” my mom said.
“Yes, it’s going to be a costly and a long journey for your son,” the doctor said. “But, there are affordable options you could look into. Places like the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio help families like yours find and pursue affordable dental care options.”
I had to go home that day and attempt to sleep as much as I could. But, my mom assured me that in the morning, we had another dentist appointment she’d take me to.
I felt bad that she had to take another day off work. It’s obvious that our family doesn’t really have the luxury of missing out on work hours.
That initial visit to the Dental Center marked the first of many appointments for my mouth. To be exact, I had to undergo over a dozen surgical operations to correct my teeth, tend to my gums and cure any remaining infections. Many of my teeth were pulled and removed. Of course, it hurt, but, I was happy to have them gone.
The Dental Center even created what they call an “upper-partial”, which completely changed my smile and fully replaced my front teeth. When the hygenist brought me a mirror to take a look, I couldn’t stop staring. My teeth were straight, white and my gums…they weren’t bleeding anymore. Even my face looked thinner from all the swelling that had finally gone down.
There were no words that could explain how I was feeling. Of course, my dentist was very thorough in how to take care of my new teeth.
“No more ‘not talking’ about what’s going on with your teeth,” he sternly said. “Promise me you’ll brush, floss and take good care of your new smile.”
“I promise, I promise, I promise” I said. And I meant it. I was so happy!
Walking out of the office that day, my mom got out her phone and said, “Sam! Show me your smile.” I turned around and without hesitation, smiled as big as I could.
“One, two, three…and…got it!” she said after the camera flashed.
“Can I see it?” I asked. My mom looked puzzled.
“Can I see my picture? I want to look at my smile.”
This post is brought to you by the generous support of MadAveGroup, United Way of Greater Toledo’s official Centennial Media Sponsor. As a leading creative agency, MadAveGroup serves clients around the country, while assisting local philanthropic organizations with marketing support.
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.