'All my life I'd been so embarrassed about the gaps in my teeth, but now I can't stop smiling'
Londonderry mother-of-two Michelle McLaughlin was chronically self-conscious about her teeth until her mum saved £5,000 to pay for cosmetic dental work. By Stephanie Bell
It's as natural as breathing to most of us but for her entire adult life Michelle McLaughlin could never enjoy the pleasure of a natural open smile.
The Londonderry mum-of-two has struggled with low self-confidence because of gaps in her teeth which countless medical practitioners over the years had told her could not be fixed.
It destroyed her quality of life and left her so self-conscious that she learned to smile with her mouth closed and hid her teeth with her hand over her mouth when she was speaking.
Tears flowed freely when the 27-year-old, who is a single mum to two boys, Caolan (5) and Cahir (4), finally found a dental surgery which told her they could improve her teeth and restore her self-esteem.
As the UK dental profession marks National Smile Month this month, a newly confident Michelle says that instead of hiding from cameras she is thrilled to discover the joy of posing confidently for pictures for the first time.
"All my life I have been embarrassed about my teeth and now I can't stop smiling," says a thrilled Michelle, showing off her perfectly straight new teeth.
"My friends have really noticed a difference in me and have told me that I have really come out of myself.
"It's just great to even get ready for a night out and feel good for the first time in my life."
Mum Laura (51) has been Michelle's champion for the past 20 years, never giving up hope and saving every spare penny in the belief that one day she would find a dentist who could help her only child.
Laura, who lives on benefits in the Creggan area of the city, has gone without food – surviving on the basics – and giving up every luxury for 11 years to save nearly £5,000 towards the dental work which has given Michelle back some quality of life.
She is overjoyed to see her beautiful daughter finally smile with confidence. "You've no idea how heartbreaking it has been and I've lost count of the dentists we have visited over the years who said she couldn't have veneers because of the size of the gaps between her teeth," she says
"After all these years I just get such pleasure now from looking at Michelle and seeing her so happy and smiling. It's the most wonderful feeling in the world."
Laura had travelled far and wide to dental surgeries for many years with Michelle only to be told nothing could be done.
It devastated her to see her daughter at such a low ebb because of her teeth.
Then, earlier this year, a friend recommended that Laura and Michelle visit Dental Excellence in Collon in the city, part of the 3fivetwo private medical group.
Michelle saw Dr Khalid Hussain and couldn't believe it when the dentist said that she was suitable for the veneers which would give her the perfect smile. Dr Hussain moved to Northern Ireland from Cheshire in England three years ago.
He is one of the best cosmetic enhancement dentists in the business and has worked on a host of celebrities including footballers' wives and stars from Coronation Street.
The advanced techniques he used to give Michelle a natural smile are the same used by Hollywood A-listers.
Michelle says: "We had been told so many times that nothing could be done that at first when the clinic told me they could help I was very sceptical.
"I thought they didn't understand and that there was no way they could do it the way I wanted. I thought they would probably give me dentures like old people have.
"I've spent my life being embarrassed about my teeth and couldn't imagine it any other way.
"Yet it took just five weeks from my first visit until I got my new veneers. They are wonderful, I couldn't have asked for any better. They are life savers.
"All my life I have felt uncomfortable talking to people and was convinced that they were looking at my teeth and thinking how awful they were, so I would always put my hand over my mouth to hide them.
"When I went out with my friends and we were getting pictures taken I would hide at the back of the group and keep my mouth closed and now I'm happy to smile for the camera.
"And I feel happier going out. Previously I never felt good before no matter how well I dressed or how well I tried to make myself look. My confidence now is amazing."
Both Michelle and her mum Laura cried floods of tears when they saw her new teeth and for Laura it has ended many years of worry and scrimping.
She says: "From the moment we walked into the clinic the way they treated us made us feel like we had walked into the home of a member of our own family.
"At last after all this time someone was telling us they could help and it was unbelievable. All the years of saving were worthwhile.
"I live on benefits so it has been tough. I just bought basic food like potatoes and beans and bread and milk and put every penny I could into a savings fund for Michelle.
"When she was 16 I thought she is not going through her whole life like that and that I had to do something about it so I started to save and have been saving ever since.
"As a mum you would do anything to make your child happy and now seeing Michelle so happy and confident has made it worth every second of scrimping.
"Dental Excellence was a Godsend. It's hard to describe life now. Michelle is just a different person. When she did smile before she always had her hand over her mouth and that broke my heart, knowing she was so self-conscious.
"She always was beautiful and it was only her teeth letting her down.
"She is not just walking now, she floats. She is on cloud nine; I'm on cloud nine and her daddy Mickey is on cloud nine."
Michelle adds: "Mum has been brilliant, she knew I could never afford it and even though she couldn't either she did all she could to save the money."
Dr Hussain, who carried out the dental work, trained at Guys Hospital in London and has worked in America and England specialising in cosmetic transformations.
He says: "When you go down that route of cosmetic transformations there are such huge benefits. I've seen people who can't function in society and suffer from a degree of shyness go on and live brilliant lives.
"I was based in Cheshire before I came to Northern Ireland which is where a lot of the top footballers live.
"These are people you and I would consider already good looking and who are trying to achieve super perfection.
"For me, it is so much more rewarding changing peoples' lives fundamentally."
He adds: "Michelle was the loveliest girl and her family, too, and to be able to do something like that for her, it is hard to express the human emotion. It is a privilege to have the skills and technology to do it."