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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Decision That Transformed My Confidence—and My Career

I will never forget what a man at a bar told me after my college graduation. Cupping a beer bottle, he gave me a hard look and said, “You’re perfect—other than those teeth. Doesn’t that bother you?”

Somehow, I eked out a response and told him I didn’t need to be perfect. (a.k.a., Of course it bothers me, jerk.)

For years, my smile held me back, both in and outside of the office. My teeth were crowded and misaligned, and my canines pointed out enough to look “vampy.” I constantly covered my mouth when I spoke and never flashed an open smile in photos. If I did without thinking, I’d beg friends to take my photos down from Facebook. I had a tight-lipped smile reserved for close family, friends, and colleagues—everyone kept telling me I should “really smile.” And I always agonized during job interviews that hiring managers would remember not my credentials, poise, and quick responses to curveball questions—but my teeth.

Last month, I finished orthodontic treatment to fix my smile. I couldn’t be more in love with the end results, but even a month or two into treatment, I’d already noticed an extra boost of confidence from my teeth moving into the right alignment. In fact, in the time I had braces, I powered more business relationships and found more career momentum than ever before, even moving into a management role at work. And immediately after finishing treatment, I landed my dream job (with a smile).

Here’s the story of how I decided to get braces at 29 years old—and why it’s the best decision I’ve ever made for my career.

The Decision

For years, people always pushed me to get braces (although most of them more diplomatically than the man in the bar), and for years, I put treatment off. I wasn’t a candidate for the clear, nearly unnoticeable aligner treatment systems like Invisalign. The idea of metal braces was terrifying—reruns of Ugly Betty flashed through my head—and I didn’t think I could afford the treatment costs.

So, I never seriously considered them—until I had considerable wear to my tooth enamel and an occasional chipped tooth because of my overbite. Before getting braces, I talked to my orthodontist, Dr. Charles Wait. I was undecided, and he made me take a real look at how putting off treatment would continue to affect my oral health. Because I had a deep overbite, my teeth would run together, causing irreversible enamel damage. He told me that, by my 50s, my lower teeth would be down to nubs. As I learned, most of us don’t realize that crooked teeth or uneven spacing between teeth can actually cause gingivitis, TMJ, or eventual tooth loss.

In my case, I decided I owed it not only to my current self, but to my future. I wanted to network like a boss, present and lead meetings with complete confidence, and of course continue moving up the ladder into more challenging roles. Looking ahead, I wanted to see 50-year-old me as a high-powered executive, not someone struggling to make it through the corporate world with baggage about her smile and tooth loss. I knew it was time to make my move.

Getting Started

So, what about my concerns? First off, I didn’t have to suffer through metal, train-track teeth. Most orthodontists, like mine, now offer cosmetic braces to adult patients. The cosmetic braces I wore actually used a special color-matching technology to blend to the color of my teeth. A matching tooth-colored arch wire and rubber bands made my braces basically invisible. Most people didn’t notice I had braces immediately, and if they did, they were excited for me or commented with approval or envy, “I need those, too!”

Additionally, the cost wasn’t excessive—in fact, it was easily covered by cutting back on non-necessities and shopping trips. While I opted to pay in full upfront, my doctor offered different billing options, like making small monthly payments.

After my consultation, a dental tune-up, and some X-rays, I had my braces. My orthodontist gave me a rough timeline of a year and a half to two years. I was extra compliant with rubber band wearing and dietary restrictions, (no popcorn, peanut butter, or tragically, red wine). I ended up wearing braces for almost two years, but it was worth every moment. (Plus, it didn’t hurt that they made me look younger.)

Gaining Confidence

I knew my smile would be different once the braces were removed, but I was clueless as to how much I would change before even enjoying the final results. I never realized how much I hated my teeth, and when they started aligning after just a month, my confidence doubled.

I started becoming the person and the professional I’d always wanted to be, navigating social and professional situations with more grit and assurance than ever. I no longer dreaded meetings with my boss or exchanges with colleagues at conferences. When I met with upper management or interfaced with the CEO directly, I didn’t have to hold back anymore. Working with outside agencies, publications, and vendors, I quickly built relationships without insecurities about my teeth holding me back.

As I became more visible at the company, my smile did, too. I smiled at everyone, bringing more energy into meetings and encounters with the executive team. I was known for my constant smile and positive attitude, which made me approachable, and I was able to build some of the most real and meaningful relationships of my career at that company. I think that, plus the fact that I was making a visible investment in my quality of life, made me more credible as a leader. It didn’t take long in braces for my new tenacity and continued hard work to pay off in the form of a promotion.

Days after having the braces removed, I had an interview for my now-current gig. I didn’t agonize over my crooked teeth—instead, I pushed my portfolio and knowledge with a permanent smile. I think people know when you’re holding back, and for the first time, I didn’t. And it helped me land my dream job.

Looking back after finishing my treatment in braces, it’s hands down the most positive decision I’ve ever made for myself. My only regret is not pursuing treatment sooner, but taking action on my own as an adult and paying for treatment was empowering.

If you’re considering braces—or anything else, for that matter—I’d encourage you to think about how it can affect your confidence, your relationships, and your career. For me, it was an investment in my future—and one that’s already paid more dividends than I could possibly have imagined.

Photo of woman with braces courtesy of Shutterstock.