First Person: Learning to smile again brought back my confidence

My fists are clenched, my jaw is tight and my stomach is loose and wild. The fear I feel has taken over me and I almost turn around and leave. My thoughts swirl a mile a minute and I can’t stop the feeling that I may puke. No, I am not pregnant. In late May […]
Photo: Mathew Dicsi
"It is with a smile on my face that I can now proclaim that my teeth no longer hold me back, and my confidence sprouts in every social interaction," says the author.

My fists are clenched, my jaw is tight and my stomach is loose and wild.

The fear I feel has taken over me and I almost turn around and leave. My thoughts swirl a mile a minute and I can’t stop the feeling that I may puke. No, I am not pregnant.

In late May 2023, I found myself trying to soothe my anxiety with a cigarette and the white noise of downtown. I was preparing to face the biggest fear I had.

I did not want to go in. I have neglected my own well-being for so long that my teeth have gone beyond what I could have ever imagined. The pain comes and goes but when it comes it’s staggering.

I gulped and took a deep breath before facing the monstrous building that is my dentist’s office,

I was not always afraid of the dentist. It was the braces at 16 that started the fear. Anyone who has had braces knows the incredible feeling of discomfort and pain at seeing the orthodontist.

Teeth are underestimated in their significance. They can play a significant role in one’s self-esteem and how they navigate the world around them. From an early age, I struggled with my dental health. Irregular teeth alignment, gaps and discoloration became constant companions, silently chipping away at my confidence.

The mere thought of smiling in public was enough to make me cringe. It felt like a secret I carried, a burden that weighed me down in social situations and affected my overall well-being. One of the most challenging aspects was the stigma associated with decayed teeth. Society tends to judge, making assumptions about an individual’s hygiene, intelligence and even socioeconomic status based on the appearance of their teeth.

It was disheartening to witness the subtle shifts in facial expressions, and the slight hesitation before someone offered a smile or engaged in conversation.

My journey towards self-acceptance and confidence took flight when I encountered a group of people who shared similar dental insecurities in an online support community. Connecting with people who understood the emotional toll of dental imperfections became a turning point for me.

Combine that with my face beginning to swell due to a severe tooth infection and a life-changing call a co-worker made to her dentist on my behalf, and I was able to summon the courage to visit the dentist.

Dr. Ulyana Lenyk, is a young dentist who is already known for her expertise in cosmetic dentistry. Her professionalism, love for her work and almost fanatic attention to detail have played a crucial role in my transformation.

Lenyk has seen firsthand the positive impact that dental intervention can have on individuals.

“Addressing dental concerns can lead to a remarkable change in one’s self-perception, paving the way to increased confidence and improved quality of life,” said Lenyk.

Lenyk and her assistant assured me that they were going to numb my face up well. I was not going to feel anything but still, I could not stop my stomach from turning and the tears from falling.

They numbed me up and gave me a few minutes and came back in the room and got settled ready to do their work.

My dentist nodded toward her assistant and said, “Put the music on.”

I don’t know why but, at that moment, I calmed down a bit. It was clear to me this person loves her job, loves helping people and is an absolute perfectionist in her work.

I left the office that day with a different type of tears: happy ones. My once rotten tooth looked beautiful and that gave me the confidence to keep going back.

Under Lenyk’s guidance and expertise, I embarked on a dental treatment plan. Over a span of several months, I experienced a series of restorative procedures, including two root canals, many fillings and a cleaning.

Each visit to the dentist brought me closer to the smile I had missed and desired, and with each treatment milestone reached, my confidence grew.

It also feels great to go to the grocery store and not worry about the crunch factor of foods when I shop.

As I look back on my journey, I realize that the physical changes to my teeth were just one part of the equation. Transforming my insecurities required a shift in mindset and a deep exploration of the roots of my self-doubt.

It is about embracing imperfection and understanding that beauty lies in authenticity.

I’m slowly learning to adapt that same philosophy in my writing.

It is with a smile on my face that I can now proclaim that my teeth no longer hold me back, and my confidence sprouts in every social interaction.

No longer weighed down by the burden of bad teeth, I am now able to engage fully with the world around me, both personally and professionally.

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