A Singaporean’s love letter to her crooked, imperfect teeth — and why you should embrace yours, too

A Singaporean’s love letter to her crooked, imperfect teeth — and why you should embrace yours, too

The hard tooth

Text: Emily Heng


If there's anything I noticed growing up, it is that the parameters of what constitutes 'cute' shifts with each passing year. A five-year-old with chubby cheeks? Adorable. Wild, curly locks? Cherub references aplenty. Crooked, imperfect teeth? Precious (see: Dustin Henderson from Stranger Things). But at some point, what was once considered appealing becomes unattractive, according to warped societal standards. A twenty-five-year-old with chubby cheeks is on the receiving end of a deluge of fat-phobic comments; wild, curly locks are compared to pubic hair; and crooked, imperfect teeth become the subject of snaggletooth puns. As the (not-so) proud owner of jutting, Stonehenge-resembling teeth — think Niall Horan pre-veneers — for 20 years, the latter, in particular, strikes a chord with me.

Growing up, I was lulled into the false sense of security that my teeth were, quote-unquote, endearing. Loving parents and an inflated sense of ego led me to spurn my dentist's orthodontic recommendations, whereupon I spent 10 blissful years 'waiting' for my teeth to 'even out.' Spoiler alert: it never happened. By the time I turned 12, a rude awakening arrived in the form of a blunt comment a classmate made on a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. I remembered descending steps into the happiest place on earth... only to be told that I bore an unfortunate resemblance to the bucktoothed, dimwitted Goofy (arguably, the most unlikable character from the OG Disney lineup). Stunned and, uh, stung, I burst into tears and fled to the safety of the bus. A wasted trip and one sobbing phone call later, I was miraculously restored with the promise of braces.

A Singaporean’s love letter to her crooked, imperfect teeth — and why you should embrace yours, too (фото 1)

My resolve held strong throughout the rest of my trip, but faltered upon returning home. As trivial as it might sound, I was daunted by the many horror stories conveyed by my braces-wearing peers. They talked about a) the too-tight rubber bands cutting into their gums; b) the difficulties they experienced with brushing teeth; and c) having to break up with all manner of soft, chewy, caramel goodness — none of which was actually that big a deal, except I was 12 and prone to dramatics.

This led to more delays. Instead of getting my teeth aligned, I developed a multitude of coping mechanisms. I adopted Chandler's cringe at the mere utterance of the word 'smile', covered my mouth whenever I laughed, and learned to speak at a speed undecipherable to a large portion of the human race because the quicker I spoke, the less my lips parted. I put on a brave face with my extended family and friends, too, laughing off their jabs about my "can opener" teeth. On the outside, I was cool, calm, and collected, proudly embracing my God-given gnashers. On the inside, I was sick with indecision and fear, torn between wanting to do something about them and fear of what would happen if I did.

Then, Invisalign came into the picture. The plastic, invisible cousin to metal braces, it promises all of the good with none of the bad — provided you have the discipline to follow through, of course. I was assured by my dentist that wearing them for a solid 20 to 22 hours per day for two years would give me the straight teeth I deserved. I embarked upon it eagerly, spreading the news to just about anyone remotely interested in the state of my pearly whites. To my surprise, many expressed dismay at my decision.

"It wasn't that bad in the first place," a friend quipped, while others claimed they liked how they "gave character." As confused I was about what felt like a sudden turnaround, it dawned on me that my perception of what others thought had more to do with my selective listening on the subject. Celebrities such as Kate Moss, Georgia May Jagger, and Keira Knightley have been lauded for their supposed "imperfections" for years, while cosmetic dental surgery practices are embracing a more believably natural European look that aims for 'harmonious asymmetry', according to a report by Vogue. I spent all that time stressing, sulking, and sullying the name of my perfectly good teeth... purely out of my own volition. Talk about perspective.

It's been four years since I ended my bout with Invisalign. Gone are the jagged incisors and jutting front teeth, though no amount of retainers nor braces can save the way my bottom row leans slightly and downwards — and that's okay (genetics, right?). While straight, even chompers are not in the cards for me, a modelling career with Fenty Beauty just might be. Hey, if Slick Woods made it happen, why not lil' ol me?