RACHEL Finlayson can't stop smiling. Yet four years ago she would do anything to avoid showing her teeth. Crooked and stained from smoking, they weren't a pretty sight and, such was her fear of the dentist, she was too terrified to do anything about it. However, when her boyfriend Stephen proposed, she knew the time had come to act.
"I had always been really embarrassed about my teeth. I had a tooth coming over the top of another and they weren't straight. They were also stained because I'm a smoker and I was too embarrassed to smile. If I did, I kept my mouth shut," she says. "It was affecting my confidence and I wanted to do something about it so when Stephen proposed, I thought, 'I want to have nice teeth and if I don't do it now I never will.'"
Finlayson also had another reason for wanting an album full of smiling photos to keep as a souvenir of her wedding day: she has glaucoma and it is likely she will lose her sight eventually. Registered blind, with no sight in one eye and only a fifth of normal vision in the other, the 31-year-old from Edinburgh wanted images she could commit to memory to remind her of her special day.
"I have congenital cataracts that I was born with. Then when I was seven I got glaucoma and lost quite a bit of sight and it's gradually deteriorated since. I know I may go completely blind at some point because that's what glaucoma does, but the main reason I finally had my teeth done is I wanted to look nice for my wedding. We were spending a lot and I didn't want my teeth to spoil it. And I thought, 'if I go blind, it'll be nice to have nice teeth.'"
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair, who has 25 years' experience and is an expert in body image, appearance and cosmetic surgery, says how we look is crucial to how we judge people and perceive ourselves.
"Appearance makes a big difference when we meet somebody. We make decisions about what they're like and whether we are going to like them within seven seconds – they haven't even had a chance to say anything," says the author of Straight Talking.
However, Blair stresses that appearance is only ever part of the picture and other factors also come into play. "The two most compelling things are when people are really confident about themselves and are interested in us. If they like us, we like them. So if you improve your appearance you meet both objectives, because if you feel good about yourself and aren't searching for reassurance, you have time for others and that makes them like you."
Blair stresses the importance of any procedure being medically safe and also that it should be prompted by what you think of yourself. "If you're doing it to make other people like you then you need more help, because that's doomed. They will like you for five minutes then stop for all the reasons they didn't like you before."
Now happily married to Stephen, Finlayson has a two-year-old daughter Lucy and is expecting another baby in November. "My daughter has congenital cataracts, too, and it's likely she will develop glaucoma and there's also a chance my new baby will as well. But my mum and dad are also both blind and we were brought up to get on with it, not sit about complaining about being 'disabled'," says Finlayson, who works for Ownership Options, a charitable organisation that advises disabled people on accommodation. So despite her condition, Rachel reckoned she had plenty to feel happy about and set about finding a dentist to do the work.
Being terrified of dentists, she had spent years working her way around the capital in a bid to find one she wasn't scared of. "It's the lack of control that frightens me. I kept making appointments then cancelling."
However, she struck lucky with Biju Krishnan, of Lubiju in Leith, who suggested she could be sedated for work that involved an extraction, veneers and whitening at a cost of roughly 3,000. "He told me I could have diazepam and be unconscious, which no one had ever suggested before. They would veneer my teeth and take out an eye tooth while I was knocked out, plus someone would stay with me throughout."
Over the 12 hours before the treatment Finlayson had 20mg of diazepam, one the night before, one early in the morning and two an hour before and was completely calm in the run-up.
"On the first day I had a tooth out and preparation for the veneers. Ten days later I had them fitted. It was a case of going to sleep and when I woke up, I had straight, veneered teeth. Then I took away whitening trays and ten days later had white teeth. I thought this kind of thing was out of my league, that cosmetic dentistry was for celebrities, but we were spending 25,000 on a wedding, so I wasn't going to ruin that with my crooked teeth."
According to Krishnan, Finlayson is not alone in her situation and he has seen many clients whose lives have been ruined by bad teeth and who have suffered in silence, unaware anything can be done.
"It's unbelievable what people will go through. Their whole life revolves around things they can and can't do because of their teeth. If they have a business lunch they can't eat and they just won't smile at all."
"One woman said to me, 'Thank God I can actually smile for the first time in a photo with my children.' She hadn't smiled for 35 years. That's ridiculous and it's because of lack of communication both ways. People are afraid to ask if something can be fixed and dentists don't ask a patient if they want a particular treatment in case they're accused of trying to sell them something.
"Not being able to smile has deep-seated psychological and physical effects because smiling sets off a whole range of chemical reactions in your head, producing serotonin. If you are sad and force yourself to laugh it has a beneficial physical effect on the body. So having the teeth fixed changes the whole person. They are unrecognisable. They walk differently, look more vital and have more positive energy. It's a big thing for them."
Finlayson couldn't be happier. "My wedding day was perfect. Some brides worry about their hair or make-up and I would have worried about my teeth, but instead I was completely relaxed. I could just be myself and smile."