Richard Nicoletti is a Boston psychotherapist who has this to say about the nightmare that plagues us all: “When the teeth fall out, one’s survival is challenged, one’s ability to eat.” He suggests asking yourself, “What am I failing to really dig into? Are there possible issues with a spouse, children, or work that I am refusing to ‘bite into’?” And his advice for stopping these dreams? “Live freely.”
Seems easy enough.
Now imagine you’re a teenage girl, 17-going-on-18, play high school sports, love Luke Bryan, serve on student council, and like hanging out with your friends. Also, you're missing half your teeth. Did your heart start racing a little bit? Mine, too.
Emma lives that nightmare every day. When she was about six years old, her annual dental check-up revealed she had nine adult teeth missing and there wasn’t enough bone mass for them to embed anyway. Her parents weren’t sure what that would mean for their daughter as she got older, and tried not to worry. The worked hard to boost her confidence while searching for answers, consulting specialists, seeing the cranial facial team at Dartmouth College, and having genetics testing performed.
It took a few years, but doctors discovered Emma has oligodontia, a rare genetic disorder characterized by the absence of six or more adult teeth. It turns out Emma is actually missing 14. You've probably noticed her closed mouth in every picture – it impacts every thing, every day, and it's not a bad dream.
As many teenagers do, Emma got braces to try and make some sense of the teeth she did have: eight little ones on top, 12 on bottom. The braces filled the space a bit, made things look a little more typical, but they did not fix the problem. The orthodontist gave her a partial denture to fill in the gaps, but it drastically changed her speech and eventually broke. Emma declared she would never smile again.
I think we can all agree teenagers have a flair for the dramatic. But reading Emma’s story made it clear there was an over-abundance of struggle during the hardest years in a girl’s life. Her parents lost their house when she was 12; high school brought tougher classes and next-level competition in sports; a basketball injury resulted in two surgeries to repair her ACL; and then there were her teeth.
“When I was young, I radiated happiness,” recalls Emma. “I remember that sense of joy I had marching through my childhood. I loved dancing, roller skating, basketball, soccer, baseball, sliding, and reading. I appreciated a beautiful sky at sunset. People told my parents I was like a sprite. I hugged everybody. To watch an old video of myself is amazing to see how I was.”
Does that not make your heart just ache?
People missing several teeth struggle with eating and speaking, can experience sagging skin due to lack of facial structure, and, as you can imagine, face very high levels of emotional trauma. Their ability to “live free” is pretty limited. Emma’s tough; her parents raised her to be confident, kind, and ambitious, and she’s all those things. She has big dreams though, and she’s ready to leave the nightmare behind.
“I would love to have the same happiness I once had when I was young. I would love to be able to smile, speak normal, and eat normal. I would love to not worry about being judged.” Oh, Emma. Yes.
There’s nothing we like better than making dreams come true, so we’re giving Emma a $17,000 grant to cover the dental reconstruction she needs to be a normal, happy teenager – although “happy teenager” may be an oxymoron. In just a few weeks, Emma will be smiling bright and ready to take on the world, and we couldn’t do any of this without the Green Ribbon Fund. We’re incredibly grateful to every one of our monthly donors who support this life-changing work.
With her newfound confidence – and really, freedom – Emma plans to start college this fall. She’s been accepted to six schools and has a list of scholarship offers. She’d like to study biology, maybe go pre-med and become an anesthesiologist, and help others struggling to live normal lives.
Chive Charities is on a mission to make the world 10% happier. Each one of us has a part to play in supporting the underdogs in our community, from sharing their stories and offering words of encouragement, to rallying the troops and funding life-changing grants. We aim to be the 10% every day, and we’d love for you to join us.
You can make dreams come true for more people like Emma by becoming a monthly donor to the Green Ribbon Fund. Click RIGHT HERE to get started.