Flash Those Pearly Whites
“I HAVE NOT SMILED in a photograph in a very long time. I try to keep my mouth closed and my teeth hidden because it is embarrassing and disgusting.”
That is how Cary resident Pat Mitchell felt about her smile before she became this year’s Cary Smile Makeover winner. Read her story and we think you’ll agree, no one is more deserving of a winning smile!
As a single mother struggling to make ends meet, Pat always put the needs of her two children first. Not surprisingly, taking care of her own teeth was last on the list, and she never got to the bottom of the list.
“They just started falling apart,” recalled Pat.
Years of neglect, breakdown and decay left her with teeth she was not even willing to show her own children, let alone anyone else. Her self-consciousness robbed her of much-needed confidence and left her with “an honest fear of exposure and embarrassment” about her teeth. She found ways to compensate.
“I’ve learned to smile without showing my teeth,” explained Pat.
Indeed, when Pat talks, she barely moves her lips, and if she does start to laugh or smile even a little, her hand instinctively moves to cover her mouth. It became second nature to her.
But 2009 was shaping up to be big year for Pat. She turned 50 years old in July, she marries the man of her dreams in September and earns her master’s in English in December — a degree she began working toward 23 years ago. She has much to celebrate, but how do you celebrate if you’re afraid to smile? Pat becomes teary talking about her upcoming wedding.
“I want to be grinning from ear to ear,” she said. “I want to show everyone how happy I am.”
She became desperate and determined to get her smile back. She says that’s when her miracle began.
One day an e-mail popped up in Pat’s inbox from Carolina Business Connection, a business partner of Cary Magazine, announcing the Smile Makeover contest running on the Web site www.carysmilemakeover.com. Dr. Allan Acton, of Cary Family Dental, was offering a new smile to one lucky winner.
“The timing could not have been better. I call it a miracle. … I was just so excited reading about it,” said Pat. Still, she almost didn’t enter the contest, again fearing the embarrassment of posting her story and pictures on the Web site. But she ultimately decided, what’s a little embarrassment for this chance of a lifetime, the chance to have a beautiful new smile on her wedding day?
She submitted her essay and asked a half-dozen friends to vote for her and pass the word, which they did on their MySpace and Facebook pages. Pat also posted notices on her LinkedIn and Entrepreneur Connect sites, and from there things took off. Before she knew it, she had collected more than 3,000 votes, mostly from total strangers.
“Social networking works!” exclaimed Pat. “It was amazing. These people didn’t know me but they could see a picture of my mouth and read my story. It was just networking, people telling people.”
Even though she knew she was getting thousands of votes, she didn’t know the outcome until Dr. Acton phoned her one morning with the news: She was the winner!
“I was stunned, just stunned, and thankful and appreciative,” gushed Pat.
When Dr. Acton first met with Pat, he knew he had a big job ahead of him. A combination of large cavities, broken crowns, chipped teeth and periodontal disease would require extensive work during a two-month period.
“Pat’s an awesome person to win,” declared Dr. Acton. “She’s got a lot going on, but we have the skill and the ability to help. Pat’s in for a real experience!”
Her makeover started with a deep cleaning to get her mouth healthy again. She hadn’t received that kind of attention in years. Another appointment was scheduled to take out some bad teeth and get impressions and pictures so Dr. Acton could design her new smile. Old crowns were removed, decay repaired and temporary crowns put in. When Pat got her first look at her temporary teeth she couldn’t stop the tears from spilling over.
“It was emotional. It really was,” recalled Pat. “They looked like the real ones. It was just awesome to look in the mirror and smile and know I can do that from now on.”
Pat had a few weeks to get used to smiling openly (a habit she is still struggling to form) before her permanent teeth came in. In the meantime, her 50th birthday afforded her the opportunity to flash a big smile for a family photo. She sent it to Dr. Acton.
“I felt really excited about it.” said Dr. Acton. “That’s why I come to work every day so we can make positive changes in people’s lives.”
In the end, Dr. Acton put in 11 crowns and two bridges, with a partial still to come. Only three of Pat’s original teeth were untouched. By the time her final appointment came and her permanent teeth were in place, there was no masking the gleam in her eye as she marveled at her new smile in a little handheld mirror.
“They’re in. It’s done. These are mine,” declared Pat. “I don’t know how to describe it; it’s better than I thought it would be. I’m so thrilled!”
New Smile, New Confidence, New You
Pat’s confidence is already rebounding. She recently interviewed and got a job teaching business writing at Alamance Community College. Standing up in front of a class is something she never would have even considered doing with her old teeth. She is now eager to put her new degree and her new smile to good use.
Pat’s makeover was completed with a fun day of pampering. The Hair and Face Lounge provided her with a new ’do and makeup, and Macy’s gave Pat an outfit for our final photo shoot. Although not one to ever seek the spotlight, Pat did have fun flashing those new pearly whites for our cameras. Smiling and laughing freely for the first time in years, perfect practice for her wedding day.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JONATHAN FREDIN