Smile: let's see your teeth

I was excited to discover the graphic novel Smile by Raina Telgemeier. The subject matter has strong personal resonances for me.
Lorcan 3 min read
Smile: let's see your teeth
From the cover of Smile

Smile is a very engaging novel. It is the most popular of Raina Telgemeier's works, if measured by Amazon sales. I bought it last year, prompted by the enormously successful exhibition about her work at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University.

The graphic novel version came out just too late to be a big part of our own children's reading, so I was not familiar with it before.

It is based on the author's own experience of damaging two front teeth in sixth grade, and the emotional, practical and social consequences that followed.

I liked the wit and the clever illustration. I liked how it spoke to the ramifications of such an event through so much of life at an important time in growing up. I have been interested to read a little about its web-comic origins as well as the general impact.

However, most of all, it resonated strongly with my own experiences, and caused me to reflect on those.

I broke a front tooth when I was about 10. We were streaming out of school on the last day of term when the boy in front of me suddenly turned; my upper teeth crashed into his forehead.

I remember the prolonged treatment to try and save the tooth as it became infected. I traveled many times on the bus with my mother to the dental clinic in the city centre, near the looming large and grey Christ Church Cathedral. The clinic was a cold, institutional building.

However, I ended up losing three of my front teeth as the infection spread. I was fitted with a dental plate, which over the years would break from time to time. It also fit progressively less well as I got older, and sometimes in class, I would realise I was moving the teeth in and out with the suction of my tongue on the plate.

I had to take the false teeth out for sports, and it was before people wore mouth guards. In retrospect, I was lucky not to have one of the teeth on either side of the gap knocked out on the rugby field. Swimming was definitely safer. I was not, I confess, a natural athlete, but having to play without front teeth further dampened my desire to participate. In general people were kind, although I was occasionally called Dracula.

Years later, I had what seemed like an overly prominent bridge fitted when I worked for a year in a rubber factory in Germany. When the dentists saw the denture, they were amused and disbelieving that I still wore something so old and by now ill-fitting. Years later again, I had a new less prominent bridge fitted when living and working in the UK. And then when I came to the US, I needed something of an overhaul as the teeth holding the bridge were replaced by implants and I got another bridge.

Yes, with this and other things I have spent a lot of time in the dentist, and a lot of money. Rather more, maybe, than the character in Smile.

I believe the experience shaped me in various ways. It certainly made me self-conscious about smiling, which played into more general social interactions, conspiring with a natural shyness to make me sometimes seem aloof. And I do not like posing for photographs, as smiling on demand does not come naturally.

I was drawn to the way in which psychological and emotional consequences were explored in Smile. I admired the wit with how the story was told and illustrated. However, my normal critical responses were largely suspended as I was transported back into my own at once similar and very different experience.

Picture: Part of the cover of my copy of Smile.

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Smile: let's see your teeth

Smile: let's see your teeth

I was excited to discover the graphic novel Smile by Raina Telgemeier. The subject matter has strong personal resonances for me.
Lorcan 3 min read

Lorcan Dempsey dot net

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