I Tried To Teach Myself How To Smile With Teeth

I remember the exact moment I decided to stop smiling with my teeth. I took a gorgeous selfie with my bestie — back before "selfie" was even a word, when you posed in front of a digital camera bought off of Amazon for $10 that was balancing precariously on a shelf and waited for the timer to flash — with my mouth drawn up in a perfect pouty smile. I’m kind of surprised, looking back, at how I managed to be so vain in an era before Instagram or front-facing cameras. But there I was, age 17, vowing to never smile with my teeth again.

I’ve only ever had a brief period where I even liked my teeth to begin with — when I first had my braces off and I was actually interested in wearing my retainer. Now they’re a bit crooked, a bit yellow (from cigarettes and coffee) and I wish I could afford to get a veneer on my least favorite one. I wish I could afford to buy myself a perfect smile in general — the benefits are never ending! But it’s weird to me how much I judge myself for traits I adore in others — personally, I think wonky, non-perfect teeth are super cute! Just never on myself.

With my graduation from university fast approaching (my graduation photo from university fast approaching) and the fact I’m definitely more cute twentysomething now than edgy teen, I’ve decided to pursue how to achieve a smile-with-teeth that I’m comfortable and happy with. Not just that, though. It needs to look fabulous to match the amazing graduation outfit I’ve already planned four months in advance.

What interests me the most about smiling with your teeth is whether the look is one that can only be captured candidly (a possible explanation for why posing with your mouth open looks so weird in pictures) or whether it is a skill that can be learned. Can you only achieve a good grin when you have a perfect, store bought, Hollywood smile, or can the imperfect wonky teeth that I love achieve the same effect? Will it all just come down to the fact I’m too harsh on my own too-large, too-gummy smile?

Before I had even finished Googling "how to smile with teeth," the internet proved that my search was one that had already been hounded by many before me. Not just that, but brace wearers, previous brace wearers and bad teeth aficionados, had been the main culprits of trying to solve the riddle of smiling-with-teeth.

For reasons unknown to myself, WebMD is the first hit when searching for how to smile with your teeth. I don’t really understand why WebMD has compiled a list of "6 Tips for a Photogenic Smile" or the medical credibility behind it, but a lot of the tips turned out to be kind of helpful! My personal favorite tip: Work With What You Have. You don’t need perfect teeth to have a camera-ready smile. So maybe my stereotypically British teeth won’t stop me in my search for my perfect smile!

Tip #1: Wear Lipstick

Cleverly, WebMD points out that different color lipsticks will negate the sense of yellow-ness in your smile (if you have any). Although I’m the proud owner of a horrendous amount of lipsticks — a bare lip makes me feel more exposed than a nip slip would — I tend to stick to Russian Red by M.A.C. Luckily for me, the tip suggested red to negate my stained teeth.

The color works and I praise the makeup goddesses for allowing my lipstick to actually help with my mission. Unfortunately, the rest of me looks terrifying.

Tip #2: Understand Your Angles

As with any photograph, the angle of the camera affects everything. I have one friend who demands anyone taking our photo on a night out holds the camera way up, because that’s her best angle. Have you ever opened Snapchat with your front camera on and encountered Jabba the Hut? Consider this: If the angle of the camera is fixed (a la graduation photos), the angles of your face can still be played with.

Many of the tip lists I encountered suggesting trying to get your top lip to touch the top of your teeth (almost impossible for a gummy gal like myself), to try and only show half of your bottom teeth, and to tilt your head up and to the side, so the smile isn’t directly grinning into the lens. There were other tips scattered all over the internet, but these are the ones that were making me kind of approve of the smile I was teaching myself.

Much cuter, but am I only liking these pictures because I can see myself taking them and adjust the angles accordingly? The rise in selfies is making us lose the art of being able to post in front of a camera properly.

Tip #3: Practice In The Mirror

If you’ve never encountered WikiHow, you’re seriously missing out on one of the funniest parts of the internet. Kind of like Yahoo Answers, but with pictures. Often made by amateurs, often actually kind of helpful, sometimes worded in really weird ways. Their instructions on "How to Have the Best Smile" were full of small insults about having to go to the dentist and exuding confidence in order to get the perfect smile. This seems counterproductive: I’m googling how to have a great grin, clearly I have no confidence in my smile! As much as I’ll probably force myself through some home teeth whitening strategies before my big day, it seems unfair to force that requirement, as I found in my first three lists of teeth tips. Maybe it means a great smile is solely down to great genetics (or expensive dentistry).

From my foray into WikiHow, the only tip that seemed smart/free was to practice in the mirror. Realistically, a mirror image isn’t exactly how you look — which is why it’s always nerve wracking looking at your selfie after your iPhone has flipped it the "right" way (I always unflip it back to my original pose). The idea of practicing seems like a good one though, my natural smile is my problem and I need to teach my teeth a new smile to spring into when faced with a camera. I have a quarter-of-the-way-through-the-year resolution: To practice my grin for the 15 minutes I’m doing my makeup each morning.

Although mirrors are modern day witchcraft, I think seeing and learning my smile outside of cameras is important. Kind of how Phoebe wouldn’t let Joey start with a guitar when teaching him in Friends. To have a photogenic smile, first you must learn without the photo.

There were plenty of other tips and tricks through a variety of YouTube vloggers and livejournals, but essentially I think different tips are going to apply to different people. Smizing is hugely 2007 and realistically, my tiny eyes look even worse if I’m staring out through a squint whilst showing all of my teeth. Similarly, someone with smaller gums than me (everyone) wouldn’t have to be conscious of their gum line! My main focus is going to be practice and relax — hopefully when I graduate I’ll actually be happy and my smile won’t look as if I’ve spent four months training for the moment. In the meantime, I’m going to aim to break my own boundaries of a closed smile and project positivity through my perfectly poised teeth.

Images: Author's Own; Giphy