THE HISTORY OF TEETH


For Mum

In the beginning, we have no teeth. We depend on our mother. We depend on her for nourishment; we depend on her for love and security.
Then at about age one we get our first set of teeth, ‘milk’ teeth’. At the same stage we start to exercise our will to move about the world, to investigate the space around us and our bodies. We chew all that we can find.
Then aged six, these temporary, rehearsal teeth start to fall in preparation for the big ones, the ones that are to remain with us for the rest of our lives. With them, we will be able to bite, chew, digest, and smile. By that same stage we are psychologically formed. Events, experiences that happen then will shape us for the rest of our lives. If they do not fall, the lucky ones will carry them until death sees them out.
In Garifuna the word for teeth and navel is the same: ‘nari’. What do Garifuna know about the connection between our teeth and our mother? Navel, because it is the symbol of Mother that we carry through life. Mother, because she represents our nourishment and security, the place where we are safe; the first, maternal smile.
At the beginning, before we see the light, we are curled up inside her belly. All that unites us to this world, the conduit through which we take our nourishment is the umbilical cord. Our gums are toothless and soft.
In dreams our teeth fall out when we are anxious. We grind our teeth when we sleep as if to chew, grind, and digest something too hard for waking life.
A dentist will see in our mouths the state of our body’s health; the first signs something is amiss. There are iridologists, reflexologists and there are dentists. The story of our lives is reflected in our mouths.
A good, bright, earnest smile will help us no end in the strife. Our teeth are our universe, like Mother they shape our lives.
And who hasn’t been bewitched by a set of perfect teeth, the sort that makes our jaw drop when the carrier opens his/her mouth?
Hollywood and publicists know all about that!

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