Nicole Larson was the kind of person whose smile always made you want to smile back. It was only after a while that it struck you: She always smiled with her mouth closed.
It had been six years since Nicole last sat in a dentist’s chair, seven since her last full exam or X-rays. Childhood dental visits had been rare: Her parents’ low-wage jobs never had insurance, and after paying for rent and heat and food, there was rarely much left. As an adult, she worked long hours as a waitress and hotel housekeeper, but those jobs lacked insurance, too, and the meager pay always ran out before the month did.
So Nicole learned to white-knuckle it through toothaches, popping handfuls of ibuprofen. She brushed constantly, rinsing with every oral rinse the drugstore sold. And she perfected a dimpled, twinkle-in-the-eye smile that always got a smile in return … but didn’t require her to open her mouth.
But today all that was about to change. She had landed a new job — still minimum wage, but this time with dental coverage. She sat in the waiting room, praying that today would be the day the pain finally stopped for good.
The dentist called Nicole into the exam room, poked and prodded a bit, and listed some treatment options. Nicole crossed her fingers.
But then he stood up and shut her file abruptly, not even trying to hide his disdain. “Look, there are plenty of things we could do,” he said frostily, hand on the doorknob. “But if you’re just going to let everything go to hell like this, there’s really no point.”
And the door clicked shut behind him.