Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Toothless

I don't mean Toothless the dragon although he is cute and my kids love that movie.

I’m going to talk about a personal experience of mine, but bear with me; I will relate it to writing.

I spent two weeks without one of my front teeth, and not when I was five or six where almost every kid has some gaps in their smiles.  I was a tad bit older. 

When I was thirteen I ran into a boy playing baseball and my front tooth fell out completely.  A dentist was able to put it back in, and it lasted for about ten years.  

When I was about twenty-three, I had to have it extracted, and I wore a flipper (tooth hanging off of a retainer) while waiting for a more permanent solution.  I really wanted to get an implant (fake tooth imbedded in the bone) but I didn’t have the bone density in that region to support the implant, so I had a bone graft.

Once the bone graft was done, the surgeon told me that I couldn’t wear my flipper for two weeks.  I’d just gone through a painful procedure and spent well over a thousand dollars for it (insurance doesn’t cover this), so I didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the graft.  

My initial reaction was to hide away at home until I could wear my flipper again, but I couldn’t take two weeks off from work.  I had to go on with my life toothless. 

Maybe this sounds shallow, but a smile is an important part of how we relate to other people, and people in this day and age aren’t used to seeing a gappy smile from anyone over the age of eight. 

The people who knew me were awesome about it, my friends, my family, my husband, and lab mates (coworkers).  They understood the situation.  They knew and loved me, and honestly didn’t treat me any differently.  I was still the same person.  

But strangers treated me very different.

I was in grad school at the time, and I remember an undergrad wandering into our lab, where I was the only one working, and asking me where the girls’ bathroom was. I didn’t want to answer, but there was no one else around, so I angled my head down trying to hide my missing tooth, but I didn't do a very good job at hiding it, and the moment she saw the gap, she backed up like I was diseased and said, “Never mind.”  She could not get away from me fast enough.  

It’s almost funny now, but at the time it was pretty hurtful that she found me so revolting, because of something that was beyond my control.  

Not everyone's reaction was that tactless, but every stranger would at least flinch when they realized I was missing a tooth.  It was hard to get used to.

Being toothless quickly changed me.  I kept my head down and didn’t make eye contact with strangers.  I didn’t smile or talk if I could help it.  And when I had to talk even to my friends and lab mates, I would angle my head down trying to hide my toothless gap.  

I made my husband order for me at restaurants which he hated, and the fact that I wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone made the waitresses look at my very sweet husband like he was some sort of wife beater who had me cowering in fear.  I felt bad about making my husband feel that way, but I just didn’t want to talk to anyone and see their reaction.  I didn’t want to feel like I was repulsive.

Soon my two weeks were up, and I was so happy to be able to wear my flipper again.  Everything returned to normal, but the experience was interesting.  I am glad that I didn’t just hide at home for those two weeks because now I know how it feels to toothless, to be marred in a small way and how people treated me because of it.

We all have these little life experiences good or bad, and they are gems for us to draw upon when we are creating characters and scenes.  And we can extrapolate these experiences to imagine how it would feel to do something we have never done before.  

All of those experiences that make us who we are gives our stories an authenticity.  No one has lived exactly what you have lived, and no one will write the stories that you will write.

I know sometimes we writers can get obsessive about writing.  Right now, I’m feeling really motivated to get my novel out there in the world, and it is tempting to flake on all my personal responsibilities and shove in movies for the kids, and just edit all day long.   I can see how easily a writer can lose themselves in their writing, and forgo the real world for imaginary ones. 

I’ve heard the advice that to make it as a writer you need to write, write, write, and read, read, read, and certainly doing those things is very helpful.  But I would like to add that you also need to live.  Those life experiences (like being toothless) are priceless.

So get out there and experience life, it will only make your writing stronger. 

Oh and be nice to toothless people.  Look them in the eye and treat them like a human being because that is what they are.



  1. I have a friend who takes two of her front teeth out when she eats. It was a little disconcerting at first but I'm getting used to it.

    1. I understand why people do have problems with this. We are not used to seeing adults with missing teeth. It is very rare. So I do understand that it does get some getting used to.

      I used to have to take my flipper out to eat too. I'm really glad that I don't have to do that anymore.

  2. That was an amazing post. You made such a perfect lesson from that story. The tough parts of living life are where the deepest story ideas come from.

    And it's a good reminder that life is hard enough without making it harder for someone.
    Thanks, MaryAnn

    1. Thanks Melanie. :) Life is hard, and I know it is a lot harder for some than it is for others. We should all try to lighten each other's load.

  3. Wow, very revealing and thought-provoking. It is interesting the impressions we leave on people and the impressions they leave on us. The answer, be kind!

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, With Joy)

    1. Thanks Sarah. I agree. Be kind is always the best answer.

  4. This helped me, and moved me. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for reminding me that all experiences, good and bad, can have value. Excellent post!

  6. Wow, that was a really thought-provoking post. We as writers definitely need to get out and experience life. Who knows--we may generate a book idea that way. LOL

  7. What a great reminder that no matter how uncomfortable or bad a situation, we can always learn something from it, if we choose to. Wonderful post, MaryAnn. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  8. Thanks Susan, Carol, and Trisha. :) It's not the worse thing I've lived through, but it was a very unique experience, which is why it was so valuable.


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.