I don’t care much about teeth. My first legitimate girlfriend had braces. She was 27; I was 21. You couldn’t feel them, if you know what I mean, you just saw them once in a while and remembered, oh yeah, you have braces, that’s kinda weird.
I don’t have the best teeth in the world. I have a gap between my front two, and while I’ve never liked it I also don’t obsess over it anymore. I’ve gotten used to it. I like faces with character, and having imperfect teeth can be a sign of good character, or so I tell myself.
My second legitimate girlfriend had imperfect teeth, too. She was 29; I was 25. I say “different” because they weren’t in the places you would normally expect teeth to be. They were a bit all-over-the-place, and she was missing one or two in the back. But it didn't bother me. We dated for six months, and I promise you, the teeth didn’t even register on the laundry list of issues we had. So when she opened her mouth one day, pointed to two small teeth near the front and told me, “These are baby teeth,” I didn’t care as much as some people might.
Out of all of our issues, the number one problem in our relationship was communication. She didn’t speak very good English, and I didn’t speak any of her language, a self-made barrier that, in retrospect, was completely my fault. So when she said “baby teeth,” I questioned her choice of words. Maybe she meant those teeth were just tinier than the others and she thought it would be cute to call them baby teeth instead of super tiny teeth. (It wasn't cute.) But after some miming, our primary form of communication, and some Googling, our secondary form of communication, I realized with satisfaction that the two teeth in her mouth were indeed baby teeth. She'd used the right words, at least. Still, I merely found this feature about her interesting. They weren’t dead or rotten teeth; they looked like all the others in her mouth, just smaller.
I tried not to think about it after our conversation; anything can get weird if you think about it too much, and teeth are certainly no exception. You’re born with gums, and then one day these hard calcium rocks shoot out of those gums and we learn to use them to tear through tough foods. Then one day in elementary school, if you aren’t my ex-girlfriend, these teeth gradually fall out out of your mouth. Really, they’re pushed out, by new bigger teeth, to fit your bigger mouth. It’s a strange miracle that as children we accept those tiny calcium rocks, and then happily slip them under our pillow and wait for a dollar once they've landed in our hands.
It's also creepy, though. There’s a reason almost everyone has had those nightmares where your teeth begin to crumble and fall out. It’s a nightmare because you don’t get a third set of teeth, you only get two. Here’s the thing, though: my ex had gotten a second set, minus two teeth. Something went wrong. Either those two adult teeth had never grown, or they were sitting there, beneath the two baby teeth, just waiting. They’d likely missed their turn and would be waiting in there, forever. The entire process creeped me out some. So I gave the teeth a decent amount of thought the day she told me, then I forgot about them.
Two weeks later, to the day, we were at a friend’s apartment in Queens; she was hosting a sushi-making party. There was fresh tuna, the kind that just falls apart in your mouth, eel smothered in sweet Japanese barbecue sauce and roasted until tender, and perfectly ripe avocado that melted on your tongue. Apart from the incident, this is what I remember most about the meal. There was no chewing involved; all the food essentially did the work for you. That’s good sushi.
We were all eating, chatting, and drinking a bit of beer when my ex made an “ugh” sound. The chatting died down a bit and we all watched as she dug her fingers into her mouth. We were expecting her to pull out a small bone, maybe from the salmon or the eel. Instead, she pulled out a tooth. Everyone around the table started laughing, quite nervously. Healthy 29-year-olds don’t usually lose teeth. Before the questions could start I cut in, smiling, “Oh, that’s just her baby tooth!” I remember feeling so relieved. I had been warned 14 days ago, and now the inevitable had happened: the baby tooth was ready to come out.
For the rest of the party the tooth sat on a napkin next to the baby roe. Someone made a joke about putting it under her pillow for the tooth fairy. We laughed and kept on eating.
When I woke up the next day with a modest hangover, I found that my ex had woken up earlier and was pouting next to me. “No tooth fairy,” she said. I reached under my pillow knowingly, bleary-eyed, and pulled out the tooth, stuck to a single ply of toilet paper.
I had slept on her baby tooth.
As I said, communication was our primary issue.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Molly Derse resides in Brooklyn, NY with her new girlfriend and their adult teeth.