Say Cheese!

“Azuka you’re no longer taking care of your teeth,” my Mom told me one day when I said a smiley good morning to her and my Dad.

I was six. I had the whitest teeth you ever saw. I had the most winning smile. I loved to smile…

It therefore came as a surprise to me when my Mom told me I hadn’t been taking care of my most prized assets — my teeth. I loved to show them off like the man in the Flourish Toothpaste advert who got stuck somewhere and signaled an airplane by ‘shining’ his teeth.

What was wrong? I found out when I looked in the mirror. I’d just started to replace my milk teeth. The two new incisors at the bottom of my mouth weren’t white — they were a shocking yellow and the whiteness of the surrounding teeth made them look horribly dirty.

That was when I stopped smiling. That was when I stopped talking.

I got singled out every day in school during the morning assembly inspections for having ‘brown teeth.’ I had a teacher tell me to shut my ‘dirty mouth’ when we were reciting in class. Some of my friends and classmates made rude remarks.

I smiled less. I talked less.

When I’m asked today why I don’t talk much I say it’s because I grew up around books and didn’t mix much. That’s only half true. I read a lot, but I also made a lot of trouble and could be found on every ‘names of noisemakers’ list in school. When people ask why I hardly smile I dodge the question.

I used all the ‘remedies’ under the sun. I brushed with salt. I tried various toothpaste brands from Close-Up to Crest. I used ‘special’ toothbrushes — straight, curved, hard bristles, soft bristles, combinations… I chewed chewing stick until my jaw hurt. I used charcoal. I used white sand. I tried sandpaper once. The yellow remained, and all of my white milk teeth got replaced with yellow. I vowed to myself that someday when I grew up I’d go to America, get all my teeth knocked out, and replace them with shiny white porcelain teeth.

I smiled even less. I talked even less.

I began to watch the way I talked. I talk very softly because that keeps my lips close to each other. My social life was affected. I started to get attracted to girls. I knew I wasn’t bad-looking — heck, some of the girls even told me. My teeth held me back.

The good side of things was that I became a good listener and that helped me focus more on observing people and writing. I once wooed someone in high school by having her read my work. I never got into arguments because they involved a lot of talking. I focused on my reading and kept to myself because it ensured I didn’t have to talk. The bad side remains my uncommunicativeness and the perpetual frown on my face that scares everyone off.

When I was 14 my Mom took me to the Oxford Dental Care to see a dentist. I was filled with trepidation. I expected to get a reprimand for caring so little for my teeth. My Mom as usual made no bones about what she wanted.

“Doctor,” she said, “Could you take a look at my son’s teeth. He doesn’t brush well and he…”

Talk about being mortified. I decided to at least have a redeeming factor.

“I’ve got dental calculus,” I blurted out, interrupting her. That’s dentists’ lingo for tartar.

“Where did you hear that term?” the dentist was impressed.

“Oh,” I said nonchalantly. “I read my Dad’s medical encyclopedia.”

“He reads a lot,” my Mom said, ever the proud mom.

“Wonderful,” the dentist said and we went in for my examination.

When he was done he sat with me to discuss privately.

“You don’t have dental calculus,” he informed me.

Could it be far worse? Had I been deceiving myself that I had deposits on my teeth when I had some even worse condition?

“Relax young man,” the dentist told me. “There’s nothing wrong with your teeth. They just happen to be that color naturally — that’s why they’re even and no white shows through. There’s one problem though…”

“Which is?”

“I’d say you take too much care of your mouth.”

Now that was new. When did it become too much?

“You’re damaging your gums by brushing too hard. Nothing’s wrong with your teeth. Just be careful not to hurt your gum and palate — there’re a lot of abrasions on them,” he explained.

So that was it. The years of suffering an inferiority complex, the taunts, the insults, the canings from the teachers. They’d all been for nothing.

It’s been four years since then. I’m here but don’t think of knocking out and replacing all my teeth. I don’t use any particularly special toothpaste although I love Crest. I still don’t smile, as in grin, and I still am very much the recluse.

If you look at my pictures, you’ll discover there’s no dental display there. Guess the words that still strike fear into me till today?

“Say Cheese!”

Comments

  1. Vera Ezimora says:

    FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!

    Okay, I’m gonna go read it and come back. YAY!!! Me loves….!

  2. Keshi says:

    heyy Azuka if u cant say CHEESE, say MMMMM 🙂

    Keshi.

  3. Vera Ezimora says:

    You big, fat chicken! So this is the reason ehn…? So wait oh…is it because of this you did not talk much on the phone with me? I mean, I couldn’t see ur teeth then now abi?

    By the way, have you considered bleaching ur teeth? Soak them in bleach for a few days, then wash them off in boiling hot water…and scrub it with an iron sponge.

    After that, spray some scrubbing bubbles (used 4 cleaning bathrooms et al). After that, ur teeth should be white as new.

  4. nilla says:

    You used charcoal too!!

  5. nilla says:

    Vera is just crazy…lol

  6. mack says:

    ‘Zuka,

    Your loneness has absolutely nothing wrong with it, especially if you’re comfortable with it. But it becomes a problem when you’re bothered by it, and want to get out more but can’t.

    Like that dentist said, there’s nothing wrong with your teeth. C’mon you know you ain’t got nothing on flavor-flav…

    Your reslusive personality can be re-conditioned if it’s such a problem, I doubt it is tho’. Smile man, people will get used to seeing ’em if anything shows. You dont have to go lagbaja style showing the world your ’32’. But you dont need the frown-frown… it ruins someone’s day, and I know you dont want to be responsible for that.

  7. temmy tayo says:

    HOw does Vera want you to go about this?? Cutting of your head before you can do the bleaching?

  8. Veracity says:

    I fear dentists too. I think that some of them conjure up cavities so they can inflict maximum pain on unsuspecting sweet-teeth.

  9. Sharmishtha says:

    hey Azuka, here u go with another blog..nice one, like the way you write….
    to make you green i hv sparkling white teeth and now i know why i love to smile 🙂

    -S

  10. ok, you know what i’m gonna say……..

    ‘vodka solves all problems…’

  11. Nyemoni says:

    This post had me rolling in laughter! Don’t mind them o jare… Just falsh your big smile whenever.. It’s not the colour that counts, as long as you teeth are clean and your breath smells nice… you are good to go!

  12. exschoolnerd says:

    u remind me of my when i was in school..only ur teeth was my weight..i turned into a recluse and took up writing.

    went thru ur album..u’ve got nice pictures..i also didn’t like taking pictures(weight again) but now i can’t be bothered jare.

    say cheese!!!

  13. Naijabloke says:

    Hey Azuka,thx a lot for that call on my birthday although I was trying to keep u on the phone much longer but u just had to rush off.Anyway we still need to talk on that thing I was trying to talk to u abt before u rushed off ..LOL ..U know what am talking abt right?

    My front tooth is like cream in color and a lot of ppl always think I had it replaced cos all the other teeth are white.I tripped when I was like 12 or 13 and the tooth started shaking.My mum wanted me to remove it and replace it but I refused and after sometime it stopped shaking and started changing color.My first appointment with a dentist in my life was in Dec 2005 when I was going to Naija and I just decided to clean my teeth and of cos I have been paying for dental insurance forever and never used it.Anyway I was told by the dentist that they could clean the tooth cos it seems it was filled up with blood when the accident happened,but I have not gone back cos I am kind of used to it by now.Maybe I will go and clean it I don’t know yet.

    U have a nice day and smile more man,thatz the only workout ur face gets.

  14. Azuka says:

    Whoops, I’ve let all the comments pile up!

    Vera
    This your small girl ‘I am First’ behavior has to stop, or I’ll hand you over to the blogosphere authorities.

    Now I know the people who really don’t like me. So my mouth is now comparable to a bathroom? Why should it undergo the same kind of treatment as a public one? Just wait while I fetch my cane. This time, I promise you’ll get cane-induced steatopygia.

    Keshi
    Lol. That sounds like a sure way to freak out the photographer, and that’s why I take most of my pictures myself.

    Nilla
    Believe me, my mouth has suffered. I agree with you on Vera. Methinks we should keep an eye on her before she cat-walks half-naked one day in Maryland — just like my scariest madwoman experience.

    Mack
    That’s why I’m writing about it — I still can’t get out of my shell 🙁

    Temmy tayo
    Don’t mind her. She’s not sane, and you know trying to fathom the ramblings of a madwoman could make you even crazier than she is.

    Veracity
    Lol. That’s been my first and only dentist appointment. The only stories I’ve ever heard about dentists have been the ones talking about them pulling out teeth without anesthetics.

  15. Azuka says:

    Sharmishtha
    You succeeded. Every time I see people flash their teeth unabashedly in pictures or in public I almost always feel envious. People hardly realize what they have.

    Thanks for reading my blog!

    Nikita
    Ha ha. Don’t tell me it whitens teeth as well?

    Nyemoni
    True talk. I’ve met some people with the whitest teeth and the most horrible breath ever. Thanks again.

    Exschoolnerd
    Don’t we all have something we’d change in ourselves if given the opportunity? I guess the flaws we’re so self-conscious of serve to remind us that we’re not perfect.

    Naijabloke
    Wow, yours got filled with blood? Are you sure the blood hasn’t rotted? Just kidding but that sounds quite tough. Well, maybe that’s what’s keeping you and Vera together ;-).

    I guessed you were keeping me on the phone. I really had no where going 😆 but the talk was getting a little uncomfortable. You seem to know your way around in that department 😉

  16. awwww… you’re such a beautiful soul Azuka… awwww… I’m exactly like you in a way. I used to hate smiling when i was about 13 cos i thought my teeth were huge for my face… but then Thank God I grew into them.. but I still don’t smile in pictures because I have a round face right so everytime i smile my cheeks just look big.. lol.. it’s hard to explain it on paper.. but yeah I hate hate hate smiling in pictures… cos I just know i look better when I don’t smile.. so yeah on your issue.. i’m glad he told you your teeth are iite(but some habits from young are hard to kill aren’t they?)… I actually wanna get my teeth bleached though cos I want them perfectly white

  17. Vickii says:

    Azuka! I can’t believe you’d let something like ‘imagined’ yellow teeth stop you from smiling! Its interesting how something like that though has had such a profound effect on who you are today.

    I don’t have perfect teeth, they’re not very straight and not perfectly white but I smile a lot and people always say they love my smile but seeing as my smile isn’t technically great, I guess its the fact that I smile so much that they like … I hope I never stop smiling.

  18. belle says:

    i LOVED this piece…so honest! we all have things we are insecure about…
    awww you’re good looking…you really should SMILE!

  19. Afropinay says:

    I remember we talked about this..abi? Later sha.. I’ll give u some tips on chinko magic whitening..lol lol 😉

  20. i dont know, but here’s some foolproof logic to fall back on if anything:

    you get so drunk that you can try all of those sick, crazy, painful methods (sandpaper?) without feeling anything…

    in any case, the alcohol can nuke any bacteria and whatnot that thinks it can mooch off your gums or food…

  21. Patrice says:

    You are fine as you are Azuka. There is nothing wrong with being “inwardly outgoing”, to borrow a Yogi Berra expression.

    Perhaps the discolouration was caused by tetracylin, taken by your mother when she was pregnant with you or by you when young? There are lots of other culprits, including fluoride, ironically the key ingredient of toothpaste. If the discolouration is intrinsic, as it is with tetracylin staining and fluorosis, it is almost impossible to whiten and cosmetic dentistry is probably the only real option.

  22. Azuka says:

    Overwhelmed
    You’re making me laugh. Big teeth are cute!

    Vickii
    Well, break away all the defenses and you discover I’m very very sensitive. I’m not that sensitive right now but when I was young[er], criticism meant a lot to me and some people can be very cruel even without realizing it.

    Belle
    I’m trying oh!

    Afropinay
    Are there going to be lots of Chinese girls involved? If there are, count me in! Yeah, we need to talk about that.

    Nikita
    Interesting logic.

    Patrice
    I’m not sure about tetracycline. I had perfect white teeth until I started replacing them and by then I wasn’t taking it. Speaking of fluoride, The ones that came up were yellow from the start. Even as the crowns were exposed, they weren’t white.

  23. My signature is my smile – when I smile my full set of teeth is on show, but the funny thing, they really arnt for showing in the public..haha..they arnt that bad – but for the smile I have they should be better. My two front are rabbitttyy when I was growing up, but luckily for me they have sort of stabilised, it doesnt look so off anymore. Great post by the way.

  24. mari says:

    So this is why you always look so serious in all those pictures. I never got the chance to ask why you never smiled but now I know.

    We aren’t all perfect. I hate my smile bcoz I’ve got that little gap btw my 2 front teeth. Hasn’t always been a big deal to me but lately, I’ve seriously been thinking about getting Invisilin(sp?). Wish I could go back in time and convince 10yrs old me about getting braces as my dad initially planned.

  25. bibi says:

    azuka!!! eya we never talked bout this o…cant believe u used charcoal and sand paper..chai abeg o…abeg fashy wat people say jare…its not that u made them like that now.. wen i saw the title, i thought u had a pic wid a chinko sister already..i’m buzzing u on yahoo o.. oya answer me.. i ave some mins to gist…

  26. Azuka says:

    The Life of a Stranger
    Lol at rabitty. I haven’t seen a rabbit’s teeth before but I hear they do bite very hard.

    Mari
    So you were thinking of asking? How come you don’t come on MSN anymore? I do like a gap-toothed smile 😉

    Bibi
    Where did you run off to? You this girl!

  27. Afropinay says:

    haaa.. Azuka.. so u like that.. well maybe you better start asking Mari to scout a chinko babe with a gap tooth.. Who knows maybe she’s got couzins.. **whispers** I love you mari..:D

  28. endi says:

    We wear the same size of shoes.just that i got to know it wasnt a problem early enough.

  29. omo naija says:

    LOL. that was funny. at least now you have perfect teeth!!!

  30. BB says:

    Dude,

    Are you really that introverted? Never been on a date? WTF??? I’m coming to VA to personally intervene! I refuse to let you perpetuate the Suleja anti-social stereotype… get out more… go to a bar, hold a glass of coke and just smile and nod… the stuff is fun… you’ll see… besides you be fine boy, whether or not u dey say cheese!!!

  31. mar says:

    worrevva Lee!
    @Azuka, been hella busy lately, thats why.

  32. azuke I think its time a new story – dont u think LOL.

  33. Azuka says:

    Afropinay
    Z has a gap-tooth. Wish me luck!

    Endi
    Lucky, luck you. It’s amazing what something that little can do to someone. Thanks…

    Omonaija
    Yeah…

    BB
    I’m in WV not VA ;-). I didn’t know Suleja had an anti-social stereotype? Wow!

    Mari
    Okay.

    The Life of a Stranger Called Me
    Wow, typing out your nom du guerre does take a while. I have something in the works, but I’m fearing the backlash. I need to do some editing.

  34. mac says:

    Dont mind enibodi. Expless yasef. eef dey tok na mi an dem. I dosent tink dey wil tok very many pertubing tins. If they does… we know what to do dont we?

    Yo it’s time for a reload don’t y’think?

  35. mac says:

    sorry bout the jumble

  36. Sounds like something I would do, going to the dentist and telling him what I suffer from. LOL!

    That aside, Life’s too short to keeping hiding your teeth. My brother has brown teeth due to taking some antibiotics as a baby and he has not allowed it get one over him.

    If it has turned you into a recluse, the world has lost something because you come across as a warm and interesting person. That should not be restricted to writing alone.

  37. AmaraEee says:

    It is amazing the kind of things that affect us in life. Parents mean well…as we can all tell now in our adult age.

    I think you can smile…smile and teeth are separate…ever seen toothless babies with wide big grins? Smile is great, it not only improves the quality of our lives, it soothes the pains of others…pleeaaazzeee smile…the color of your teeth are not that important as long as they are clean and neat.

  38. Daddy's Girl says:

    Azuka, gosh I have been missing out on so much on your blog… this is a great post. I like your honesty. Please go ahead and smile jare, you be fine boy o (nice pics, by the way)! I know how those childhood things can really stick to you, but it really would be a shame if you let that hold you back from coming out of your shell as much as you want to. Or, if it bothers you that much, you could save up a lot of money can get those whiter than snow veneers all the Hollywood types have. But really, just smile at people… I promise they’ll love you for it… there’s nothing better than a relaxed, unrestrained smile!

  39. no worry – Im still reading them.

  40. Azuka says:

    Mac
    No it’s okay. It’s just funny to see you using ‘phone-speak.’

    In My Head and Around Me
    Lol. I remember they used to call such people ITK (I too know) in school.

    Thanks! I’m blushing! 😳

    AmaraEee
    That’s true. Two-toothed baby smiles are the cutest I’ve ever seen.

    Daddy’s Girl
    So what will your punishment be? I hereby sentence you to watching reruns of Dus Numbri for the next few weeks.

    LOASCM
    Thanks…

  41. simplycider says:

    I had a complex about my teeth 2- they were in worse condition than urs (they were actually rotten). Imagine what smiling at a boy u hav a crush on’ll do 2 ur esteem … and mind you, they were my incisors! Urk!
    Sha thank God that phase of my life is over 4 eva!!

  42. Azuka says:

    SimplyCider
    The complex is still here. I still don’t smile that much…

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