animal teeth

In my imaginings, none of the characters I create have straight teeth. I like a little snaggletooth, the hint of an overbite, wide teeth, fat teeth, stubs and gums. When I put love into a character, I’m loving myself back; my own jutting upper, the bottom tooth that look likes it’s about to pop out. My teeth are my father’s teeth, and his father’s, how far back I can only imagine. My dad has always had this wide, true grin. His teeth are more crooked than mine, his bite is slightly off to one side. His teeth remind me of an animal’s, or some half-wild spirit from Dreaming.


I remember the mouth ache of my adult teeth crowding into my child-sized mouth. Adults would cup my chin and ask me to bare, and they would say braces. I almost gave in twice. In fifth grade my dentist said my bones were still soft and he molded my mouth for a retainer I was to wear nightly and six hours a day. I didn’t last 24 hours with the thing. I cried to my mom it hurt too much. I stopped wearing the retainer. A few years later the dentist confused me into accepting a mouthful of rubber spacers, to make way for brackets. I don’t think my gums bled but my mouth was filled with a hot, metallic pain that felt like blood. I bore it. When he put the brackets on a week later I pried them off with a screwdriver after cutting my inner cheeks to shreds on them. My mom begged me to get my teeth straightened she always said Think about your wedding pictures! There has been no wedding. I smile with my teeth in almost all pictures.


In the sex-play of my fiction, my characters bite and nip. I don’t write it but I imagine the hieroglyphic teeth marks left on the skin, little maps disappearing by blood. The miracle of our mouth bones, the divine hinge of jaw, forming voice, shaping song, language, growls.


I think of ancestral teeth. When I visit my father’s village in Mexico there are enough uncles and aunts with the same shaped teeth. The shovel-shaped incisors of indigeneity. The elders have short teeth, eroded by stone ground corn from the metate. An uncle reached out to touch an eye-tooth of mine once, and told me it would be beautiful rimmed in gold.

Elders when I was a kid had teeth rimmed in gold or silver. I have a relative in Mexico who has a mouthful of silver rimmed teeth, and shame about it. She speaks with her mouth sheathing her teeth, laughs like a crone, lips tight to hide what she hates. Her face is starting to shape itself around her shame. She says her mouth is ugly. She has accepted beauty standards that didn’t exist in the village before. I see it every time I visit. New fajas and girdles hang on clotheslines behind houses. At parties I note the rigid posture of women who are trying to breathe beneath elastic and rib-bone, whose organs are compressed. I see mouthfuls of wire, teeth bleached unnatural shades. I want to tell them they don’t have to do anything to be beautiful, they are already beautiful.


There are three sisters. I’m the eldest. No braces, my teeth are wild and my own. My sister D inherited the shape of my father’s teeth but not the crowding. Still, they were crowded enough she decided to get those invisible braces a few years ago. What I remember most from that period is she would always throw the invisaligns out by accident, and more than once we had to don gloves and go through the refuse of half-eaten meals and other garbage so she could keep her teeth on track. My sister T  inherited our mother’s straight teeth and curly hair, her light skin.


I had friends in high school who would get braces and them get them taken off and they would grin and grin and grin, as if their newly straight teeth gave them permission. More than one friend asked me why I wouldn’t get my teeth straightened, if it was because my parents couldn’t afford it. I was stubborn. I didn’t want to go through the hassle and pain of changing my teeth. I remember a heart-knife conversation with a friend who told me she thought I was perfect, except for my teeth.


I mention teeth in my writings: a love interest in one practice novel had front teeth that looked as if they were gently pressed in toward the mouth with a thumb. In my fantasy novel in progress there is a clan of warrior women who turn into jaguar when they battle, their teeth lengthening into ferocity. I mention their mouths because I want my readers to un-sex themselves from the ideals of what our mouth-bones should look like.


A few years ago I stopped by my childhood dentist’s office to drop something off for my dad. The dentist was working on someone in the back but he heard my voice and rolled into the hallway, mask on, tools in hand and shouted When are you going to let me straighten your teeth and make your smile beautiful? I shouted back Never. When are you going to let go of your fake standards of what makes a smile beautiful? One of those rare moments when the perfect retort shows up on the spot instead of hours later when I’m about to fall asleep.


So yeah, give me mouths crowded with teeth. Teeth that are pointed, jutting, sideways, extra teeth and broken teeth and teeth that have been used as tools. Teeth that know how to bite, chew. Teeth for gnawing and grinning, for tearing and tonguing. Teeth that have stories. Animal teeth.


2 thoughts on “animal teeth

  1. I love this, I have always loved your smile. Dentists are kind of wacko, they drink the kool-aid of perfectionism and assume everyone wants a barbie smile instead of their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have only one line about teeth in my whole novel and it is one of the most important. Can I tell you how much I loved, loved, love this piece! I am fascinated by teeth, but they scare me as all the women in my family lost them young. Awesome details, humor and imagery. Awesome.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s