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  • Writer's pictureSeema Banerjee

‘Let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile’

‘We change the way you smile’ enticed the Bollywood beauty flashing a dazzling smile from a giant hoarding in the mall. In the print below were some rather unaesthetic before and after images of human teeth. Teeth in every conceivable shape and form- teeth that resembled gravestones, crooked teeth, buck teeth, bent teeth, chipped teeth, stained teeth but eventually as the ‘after’ images showed; each had magically morphed into flawless pearly whites. Impressed by the client testimonials and the imposing credentials of the dentist,  I took an eager screenshot of the advert. 

Up to that point, I had never really given my smile much thought. It just seemed to spark off on it’s own, very spontaneously, quite easily and pretty frequently. I had often been told that my smile radiated from my eyes; a remark that invariably made my smile bigger. However, staring now at the ravishing smile of the gorgeous movie star, I suddenly felt like I could do better, as a pang of inadequacy crept in. The voice of vanity whispered temptation into my ear- ‘why not?’ After all, this dentist in question had ‘fixed the smiles’ of many actresses and top models, so why not entrust her with the task of  ‘improving’ my own smile?

As I strode into the Dental clinic, I couldn’t help but recall a rather frivolous conversation that had dominated the expat wives brunch that had set the ball in motion.  I had been forewarned about the cliques in this group, and so, had braced myself for the ‘brunch encounter’. To my bemusement I noticed that clusters of nationality aside, one could broadly divide this gathering into 2 major sub groups. One group of women that scoffed every cake and scone in sight and the other group that stuck to bits of wilted lettuce leaves, black olives and thin slices of imported smoked salmon. To the latter, there was no greater enemy than  ‘carbs‘ and it’s mere mention would elicit total condescension. Seeing a cake on a plate was the ultimate sacrilege. Hence, there was a palpable tension between the two groups of eaters and non eaters. It is here that I first heard about the revered ‘Paleo diet‘. It was like a wave that was sweeping over these already willowy women in a bid to imitate the dietary habits of our Palaeolithic ancestors. What about evolution of our digestive tracts, I wondered?  It baffled me that these women who were as thin as a rake were aspiring to shed even more of their invisible weight. Struggling for an ice breaker, I was tempted to mention an article that had cruelly stated that after 40, a woman has to make a painful choice between having a youthful face or an exceptionally slender body, as apparently each costs the other. Unable to vouch for the scientific truth behind the statement, nor wishing to incite the wrath of this group of emaciated women, I zipped my mouth as diplomacy and self preservation prevailed. I continued to feign interest in the engaging conversation of who had shed how many pounds with Paleo. As I spread some pâté on a piece of bread, I pondered about the choices we make in life, as I scanned the room, unsure about which group to join in this brunch affair. A brunch that had cost nearly as much as an average Indian monthly salary besides the loss of a few brain cells…

The hot topic of discussion in the room was the growing popularity of medical tourism in India. Cheap as chips, they exclaimed. Especially when compared to the west. Since the west was flooded with Indian doctors, they surmised, one could be assured of the quality of doctors in India.  A lady cited her sister’s example, who, after being ‘fed up of waiting for her turn’ on the NHS in the UK, had decided to sort matters out in India, instead. Turns out, that by choosing to ‘go private’ in India rather than the UK, she had saved herself a small fortune. Her prudent decision had enabled her not only to an economical medical treatment, but had included a luxury holiday in India, a visit to the Taj Mahal thrown in and with enough money leftover, she could then indulge in a brand new Chanel Handbag! Unanimously, they gasped in appreciation. From Botox to tummy tucks, lasers, bust enlargement, slimming; there was a real buzz in the room as many phone numbers of leading surgeons and clinics were exchanged.

The conversation then moved to teeth whitening. Somehow, I perceived it as the lesser of the evils. I tried to justify to myself that this was a more ‘natural’ thing to do, something that I could perhaps succumb to. In any case, the whitening toothpastes never worked, so one could do with a bit of ‘enhancement’. In this scenario, the centre of attention was a lady who was strongly advocating it’s benefits as she beamed from ear to ear. Her super white teeth were further offset by her fake tan – making them look even whiter. Amidst the fawning admiration of her teeth, she mentioned that during a power cut the night before, the only thing that her husband could see in the dark were her luminous teeth!

I made a mental note to specify to the dentist that I didn’t want ‘too white’ teeth, just ‘naturally bright’ teeth. Waiting for the dentist, I once again felt reassured by the glowing references and accolades that she had earned which were on full display at the reception area.  As I scanned the brochures, my eyes scrolled down to the price list for the Whitening treatment-  nearly half the cost as compared to the UK!  I felt immensely thrifty.  After all, who doesn’t love a great bargain? 

The dentist had impressive credentials with a much sought after degree from a leading medical school in India. She had self styled herself as a ‘ smile designer’ and  there were numerous press clippings about her success stories. She was indeed the hand behind the smiles of many famous faces whose posters graced her clinic walls. As she pencilled me in for my Whitening appointment the following day, I was a bit puzzled. My limited internet research had made me aware that this treatment apparently wasn’t suitable for every type of tooth enamel, and she hadn’t as much as looked at my teeth! That should have set the alarm bells ringing, but in my eagerness to get the job done, I chose to ignore it. I however questioned her about the suitability of my enamel to withstand the treatment, to which she responded by saying that she could already ‘see’ that my teeth were fine enough for the treatment. As an after thought, and without any warning, she then pried my mouth open and peered in as we were standing by her reception table sans proper lighting. On ‘examination’, (as we stood chatting informally by her reception table) she insisted that my front two teeth needed Veneers in order to ‘perfect my smile’. To emphasise her point she added that everybody does it,  pointing to the beauties on her wall of fame. It of course involved a noticeable escalation in costs, but then, as I gazed at the sensational smiles beaming from across the room, I convinced myself that  – a) it was absolutely necessary b) it was still cheaper than the UK and c) everybody does it!  Hence, it is no surprise that I jumped at her bait.  As I was leaving, the dentist suggested that I while I was at it, I may as well get some tooth jewellery as she flashed a smile to reveal her own little gem glinting on her lateral incisor. Thankfully, I dodged the bullet this time, as I managed to assertively decline her proposition. 

Being terrified of the dentist chair is an often heard cliché, and one that I will never forget. My problems started the minute my mouth was held wide open by a hostile looking contraption. I felt jittery, as I was totally unaware of the procedure or the length of time my mouth would have to endure this terrifying, invasive instrument. My anxiety spiralled into a near panic attack state as I experienced a sudden loss of control due to my inability to speak caused by the uncomfortable device that was stretching my jaws open. This in turn seemed to further compound my unease and distress. I frantically gestured to the dentist to stop as I felt a growing surge of panic. Indifferent to my overwrought state, she simply brushed me aside and nonchalantly continued with the treatment. This of course escalated my troubles, until I shakily managed to grab my phone and type the words ‘ STOP- I CAN’T BREATHE’, as I felt myself choking with fear. Thankfully, she took note this time as I wildly gesticulated to release the unfriendly strapping around my mouth. A few controlled deep breaths ( yoga to the rescue!) helped to calm me down. I requested her to explain the entire procedure before introducing any other menacing looking instruments- as a known devil is better than an unknown one!  This strategy seemed to work fine and fortunately the remaining session was incident free. 

Two days days later I was back in the same dreaded chair, this time with her scraping away at my front teeth for the veneers. Halfway through, she stopped and insisted that what I needed were crowns and not veneers. She rattled off the benefits of crowns over veneers and insisted that I would really benefit from them. Left in that vulnerable position, on a dentist chair with a portion of my teeth scraped off  to fit the veneers, as originally planned, I was given a crucial 5 minutes to make an important decision regarding the future of my teeth. I was left with no choice but to put my trust in the medical hands and decide that the dentist knows best. There was an added cost.  Of course. 

 The circumstances under which I was made to decide were not conducive, which impacted my subsequent flawed decision. My later research and separate dental visit elsewhere ( for correcting the botched job) proved that my healthy, strong teeth did not require a crown at all but a veneer would’ve been good enough. As for the the whitening treatment, it was uneven as some of my teeth enamel are porous and apparently not suitable for that particular type of laser treatment. Dissatisfied, I went back to the dentist and my complaints backfired as she threw her glowing testimonials in my face and accused ME of  being picky! Exhausted with having to put up yet another lengthy fight, I decided to retreat and write this off as one of life’s  bad learning experiences.

All this absurdity, for the sake of improving my smile! As for my smile, ironically this dentist did manage to ‘change my smile’( thankfully, only temporarily) as she had promised on her lucrative posters. I became so self conscious about the shoddy job on my teeth that I had to pucker my lips into a duck face as it managed to hide my teeth. Thank goodness, the Kim Kardashian pout was in fashion, at the time…

One of life’s lessons learnt the hard way.

Firstly, to be grateful for what I have and never to tamper unnecessarily and try to ‘fix’ something which is not broken.

Secondly, not to follow the herd.

Thirdly – a smile does indeed generate from the eyes, the teeth are secondary. Sorry Dentists!

And finally, let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile. 📷

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