The Space In-Between: The Silver Lining of a Toothless Smile

There are countless ways, every day, we have an opportunity to do something we feel called to do, having no clue of how far that act will carry on into the life of someone else. This story begins with the blog I wrote in May 2014, “Top 5 Lessons Learned from Losing my Two Front Teeth” written with hopes to shine some light (and laughter) on the loss of my two front teeth. Since I referenced Brene Brown and her book, “The Gift of Imperfection” in my story, I tweeted it to Brene, fingers crossed she would read it. Not only did she praise me for my strength but she graciously re-tweeted to it all her followers! As a result, a number of people around the world found my story and reached out to thank me for my vulnerability. Talk about a “Gift” coming from my “Imperfection”. As I always say, people tend to show up as Silver Linings in our life. The story below was written by Kim Haller, (@xperiencelife22), a 43 year old Denver Resident who is one of Brene’s twitter followers that connected with my toothless smile.

“Just a over two months ago I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and came across a post from well-known speaker and author Brene Brown with a link to a blog entitled “Lessons Learned From Losing My Two Front Teeth.” I was immediately intrigued as I myself lost my two front teeth to a softball injury in the late 1990’s. I clicked the link expecting mostly an interesting read – it turned into something much more meaningful. After reading the story twice, I was struck at how Carlyn turned a traumatic injury and healing process into something positive and fun! Since my injury, I’ve felt embarrassed- like I was abnormal and have tried to hide the fact that I wear a partial. Carlyn’s story touched something deep in my heart…perhaps it was time for me to have a change in attitude as well. After all, my missing teeth are a part of me, part of who I am. Just for kicks, I opened Carlyn’s Twitter profile and was amazed to see she lives in Denver! I mean, really – what are the odds?!? I sent her a message and shared that I was also missing my teeth. She immediately suggested we meet and take a picture of our toothless smiles. In a total out of character response I said, “I’m game!” We made plans to meet the night before she got her permanent bridge, the last night she would eat with her teeth out.

I’ve been wearing a partial for 17 years. The dental work is very expensive and I’ve lacked motivation to make it a priority. Only now I realize that I held a deep belief that I wasn’t beautiful before I lost my teeth, so why bother to get them fixed. On the day before we met, I took a toothless selfie and sent it to Carlyn. Her response – “OMG UR AMAZING – & Beautiful!” and that part blew my mind. I’ve been journeying towards accepting that I am beautiful – her response was like the final flip of the switch, I actually began to believe it and to accept it in my own heart.

Not a risk taker by nature, meeting Carlyn in person was very much out of my comfort zone. However, my anxieties were put to rest as she greeted me with her big smile and hug. After just a few minutes she no longer felt like a stranger. Her vivacious spirit and love for life are contagious! She suggested grabbing $1 tacos around the corner, which gave us time to get to know each other and eat good food, her’s with her teeth out. As we were getting ready to leave, I did something I’d never done on purpose in public – I removed my partial (my temporary two front teeth)! We took a beautiful picture both toothless and with teeth in!

I left that evening feeling inspired, accepted, encouraged and filled in my spirit.
Anais Nin said: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Carlyn is no longer a stranger, but a friend. A friend brought into my life by the space in between my two eye teeth 🙂 Her arrival in my life has indeed helped open a new part of my world. We’ve only known one another a couple months, but I know we will continue to be less stranger and more friend…
Thank you, Carlyn for the courage to share your story. It has inspired in me the courage to share mine.

There is a lot to learn from this story. First, I learned that by gifting the world with my story, I received the gift of amazing friendship (s) in return. What if I had allowed FEAR to hold me back from writing my blog? Would we have met? Another beautiful reminder is that we connect with people for a purpose & it is always on time. I had no idea the transformation process Kim had begun only months before our meeting and I’m honored to be a part of her journey. Finally, just like the act of living true to myself pushed me into the lives of those that were meant to read my story, the same can be said for the small act of encouraging another and how it can (gently) push them outside their perceived limitations to take on challenges they never thought possible. I thank Kim for surprising me with this beautiful- and vulnerable story. However, I am even more proud that through this experience, she is realizing that only her mind holds her back her from being the version of herself she wishes to be. Telling ourselves we “can’t” is a sure way to feel unworthy and keep us from accomplishing a goal. So… I was amazed when Kim, someone who is a tad shy and working hard to shed some weight, decided to sign up for my HIKE MS event, a hike up Keystone Mountain (over 10K ft in elevation) to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis, a cause close to my heart due to a personal diagnosis 16 years ago. There were a couple hikes to choose from and Kim chose to do the 2 miler route believing this was all she could handle. But through the encouragement of me and my awesome team mates, not only did she conquer the 6 mile route, she did it all by herself, never giving up on what she knew, deep down, she could achieve, no matter how long it took her, no matter how hard it seemed!

Cheers to the Silver Lining of a Toothless Smile!

(Top 5) Lessons Learned from Losing my Two Front Teeth

Whether it be a broken heart, being let go from a job, the death of a loved one… or something as unimaginable like…losing your two front teeth, life constantly supplies us with situations where we are forced to make a choice on how to respond to an unwanted and unplanned circumstance. We go through stages, our mind can’t resist chatting with our ego, our emotions and our overall attitude. For me, I typically start with the WHY ME, followed by the WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY and eventually embracing the… WHAT NEXT. Embracing what life has thrown my way IS my way of life. I’ve talked about my MS Diagnosis, the death of best friends, job changes, etc, but THIS accident, hit a whole new level.

5 Lessons Learned… from Losing my Teeth. 

5) Freak Accidents Happen. Â I think back to the day. Could I have done anything differently? Did I have any warning signs? No. I casually hopped on my bike to head to the Denver Broncos Football Game. Only 3 miles away, the beautiful October afternoon provided the perfect backdrop for what was to be… a happy day. You see, life had been really tough the weeks prior and I was very excited about a Sunday Funday. Only, my bike had a different agenda. First, it started to make a loud annoying noise. Within minutes, my frame and front wheel locked, catapulting me over my handlebars in airplane pose (Yogis – you know this visual), causing me to face plant the pavement at 10 MPH, hitting so hard that my glasses land 15 yards away, followed by my legs coming over my back (Scorpion-ing – Snowboarders – you know this visual) so that when I finally stopped, I was looking straight up, feet pointing in the direction I was biking. I had no idea what had happened. Completely panicked having witnessed my fall, my boyfriend rushed to me, fearing the worst, that I broke my neck. Luckily, I was in so much shock I couldn’t feel the pain as I sat up to attempt to talk to him. Â Unluckily, I felt a huge hole between my completely shredded lips and then felt my shattered lost teeth embedded into the roof of my mouth. As I slowly laid back on the street, surrendering both my mind and my body to what was happening, all I could do was stare into the cloudless blue sky… then reality sunk in. I heard the ambulance sirens. Was I going to be OK? Why, why of all days did this happen to me? I knew I wasn’t making it to the football game. I had eaten a light lunch, saving room for stadium food. There would be no nachos for me that day. In fact, not for a while. As they say, “it is what it is”. Accidents Happen.

within 10 days, my face healed fast

within 10 days, my face healed fast

4) Love Heals With a brace secured around my neck, laying in the ER for the results of my brain and spine scans, the last thing I thought to do was “check myself in” on Facebook, announcing my arrival to the hospital. However, being very concerned and believing in the power of positive thoughts and prayer, my Mom’s reaction was different; she posted a picture on Facebook of the two of us smiling, sharing the news of my accident and questionable condition with our friends and family. At first, I was very angry. My blood pressure soared. My privacy felt violated. I didn’t want to draw attention to my injuries. Or make people worry and feel obligated to reach out. But, almost instantly, my phone was blowing up! Calls from concerned friends around the country wishing me well. Text messages sending me support. FB posts, some from people I didn’t know, letting me know that I was beautiful no matter what. Friends, some I hadn’t heard from in years, reminding me of my strength and perseverance, having no doubt I would overcome this new obstacle.  I was overwhelmed with the response, the love I could feel being shared with me by way of words, flowers, cards, homemade soup — even a letter from the Tooth Fairy with $2 included! It took a few days for the silver lining to sink in, but no longer was I angry with my Mom’s post… in fact, I appreciated it. Letting people know I was in need of extra TLC resulted in an outpouring of love I’m convinced helped me heal. Within the first few days, with so many friends wanting updates on my condition, I decided to step out of my comfort zone one step further. I went “public” with photos of myself, some pretty graphic with a broken nose and busted up face. I wanted everyone to know their LOVE was working- Â my face seemed to be healing, Â much faster than I expected. The days I felt so bad I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror, my loved ones reminded me that no one could steal my smile, it came from my inside out. They checked in on me so I never felt alone in the process of discovering my new normal, without teeth. The love I’ve been gifted over the past 7 months has been nothing short of medicine for my soul. I firmly believe my body healed faster from the outpouring of awesomeness I generously received from my friends and family.

'Tis the Season... to Smile!

‘Tis the Season… to Smile!

3) SMILE… Even if you Don’t Have Teeth My accident happened two weeks before Halloween. While laying in the ER, my initial response was to start listing the various costume ideas to take advantage of my new smile. A Hockey Player? A Jack-O-Lantern? A Hillbilly? Even the idea of a Meth Head came up in conversation! I thought all of these were brilliant; until the idea of wearing a Christmas Onesie and going as “All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” popped into my mind. I couldn’t wait to dress up. I put my hair in pig tails and rocked my Boston Red Sox slippers. And the best part:  people believed I had makeup on my teeth- never thinking I’d actually lost them! I LOVED their reaction to the realization that I… had no teeth. Of course, I was limited on my candy consumption, stealing all the Reece’s Cups from the bowl. Having such a blast embracing my toothless grin on Halloween, I decided to ’tis the season and take my smile one step further. I invited a friend to go to the Mall to visit Santa and have some Christmas fun! Again, I wore my hair in pig tails, eager to ask him for my “two front teeth”. I don’t know what made me laugh more, sitting on Santa’s lap for the first time (I’m Jewish) or seeing the reaction of all the parents (many my age) in line with their little ones. From day one, my attitude has been to make the most of my crooked smile. No way was the loss of two teeth going to get the best of me… if anything, it has forced me to stop sweating the small stuff, bringing out the best in me, by way of my silly smile.

2) Don’t Assume Anything About Anyone. The day after my accident was by far the worst. I’ll never forget the first time I looked in the mirror, my face so swollen I literally didn’t recognize myself. Â With a broken nose, lips destroyed from the street and a face sore with scabs, I began to sob, a hard cry, that came from a scared place in my soul. My flowing tears had to create their own pathway down my scratched up cheeks. Would I ever look like my old self? I felt defeated. SO, what did I do? I picked my head up as high as I could and insisted on going to the grocery store to pick out the soup I would need to eat through a straw for the next few weeks. Arm in arm with my boyfriend (who I convinced to support my crazy decision to go out in public) I quickly realized I should have worn a T-Shirt with an arrow pointing to him that said “I Swear He Didn’t Do It”. We got glances. I got stares. For the first time I felt what it was like to be someone that didn’t choose my looks but appeared ugly and deformed, someone that people talked about. I stepped into the role of what it might feel like to want to hide your face. And, it felt awful. I’ll say that there were other people upfront with me, asking me what happened. For these folks I was more than happy to ease their curiosity. I’d rather someone know the truth than assume anything. Over the next few months, I got more comfortable with my new normal and announcing the loss of my teeth took a back seat to just… being me. For example, after my face had healed, I was in a personal essay writing class for 8 weeks, sharing stories, building friendships. To celebrate our final class, we all went out for food and drinks. This was the first time I’d taken out my teeth. To see their reaction, the “Oh my god, I would never have known” when I popped my teeth out, was the same I got from most who were surprised by my party trick. Of course they didn’t know, why would someone think a pretty girl with a bright smile would be toothless? Many, if not most, of us, have gone through something in life that has changed us, making us who we are today. We often don’t wear our uniqueness on our sleeve. Fortunately, I have not taken anyone’s assumptions, or lack of, personally. If anything, I’ve been happy to create the awareness that what you see isn’t always what you get. That saying “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” couldn’t be more true. Be mindful that everyone is fighting their own battles, whether you can see them or not.

1) Smile Flippers are Flipping Awesome I can’t eat with my fake teeth. Drinking a wine or coffee tastes different with a plastic retainer in, too. Every day, I take my teeth out in public. And, the surprise reaction of a 36 year old gal missing her two front teeth, well, to me, is priceless. I’ve heard from many friends and strangers to friends I’ve met since loosing my teeth. Majority applaud my attitude, saying if it were them, they wouldn’t want anyone to know. They’d be embarrassed and to look different. This wasn’t something I chose. This was something that happened. And it was up to me how to handle it. I could never imagine hiding my smile…  it is something I am proud to wear every single day! Brene Brown is famous for saying, “Vulnerability is the New Black” and I couldn’t agree more. Owning our path while choosing confidence and optimism is much more sexy and appealing than attaching to shame, guilt or embarrassment. It takes more energy to intentionally hide my smile than flash my tooth hole for the world to see. If I want to chew gum, I’m gonna pop my teeth out! If I want to eat hot wings, even if it means getting a little messy, I’m gonna pop my teeth out. If I conformed to society and adopted the idea that because I looked different, somehow I was not as worthy of enjoying these things, then I would be living against all I believe in, for everyone on the planet. Make peace with your situation. It could be worse. Feel grateful you are alive with a smile to share. Life is too short to hide your shine. 

Smile... even if you don't have teeth.

Smile… even if you don’t have teeth.

In addition to what I learned from within, I also gained knowledge on a process completely foreign to me before my accident. Replacing teeth is ridiculously expensive (an entirely different blog post of how unfair it is that teeth are considered cosmetic) and I’m beyond grateful for the support from my Mom. And, it’s a long process to get permanent implants… up to A YEAR! I’m 7 months into my recovery. In 2 weeks my Dentist from https://dentistinperth.com.au/ will replace my smile flipper with a bridge, glued in to reshape my gum line. 3 months from then, the bridge will be replaced with my porcelain implants and I’ll only be required to visit with my Oral Surgeon for friendly follow ups. As crazy as it sounds, I’m actually going to miss “Rocking Out with me Teeth Out” aka, feeling proud of my One-of-a-Kind smile. It’s created a unique awareness of the food I eat. I brush my teeth… and my retainer. I fall asleep with my teeth out and put them back when I wake in the morning. I’m completely comfortable with my new normal and anyone that knows me will agree that I’ve had fun with my loss. Missing teeth is a catalyst for all kinds of conversations. It’s helped me befriending a toothless homeless vet, a gal at a sandwich shop in Boston who also wore a “smile flipper” and of course, the countless waitstaff that I’ve surprised with my spaced smile when they return to fill my water glass. I even scored a free dessert from my lack of chompers! But, the people that presented themselves on my path that I will inevitably remember and appreciate most, are my Dentist and Oral Surgeon, my favorite Strangers To Friends of this experience, true Silver Linings. Both of them showed up serendipitously, amazing men who have made a painful experience, as painless as possible.

My question to you is, what are YOUR two front teeth? What have you been forced to accept?? How has your perceived setback actually been a stepping stone? What have you learned about yourself? Of others? Any fears overcome? My intention for writing this is to bring awareness to our choices, our attitude option and our ability to find the good in the bad, whether in the moment or months later. I encourage you to please share this post with anyone that needs help embracing their own “setback” in hopes my story inspires them to want smile from their inside out, too.

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