When you think about your favorite books or great works of literature, you probably think of compelling storylines, remarkable characters and deep love stories. While these themes are strung throughout the classics, have you ever take a look at how teeth or the mouth is portrayed in literature?
Of course not! Why would you? We at Josey Lane Dentistry, however, can’t help but notice these dental references as we read.
From children’s books to English stalwarts like Beowulf, authors use the mouth to project specific images. The mouth can be used to show softness through a smile, anger through a grimace or malice and threats through clenched teeth. Below, we’ll take you through several example of teeth in literature that either teach us something about the mouth or use the mouth and teeth to illicit symbolism.
Dentistry and the mouth (particularly smiles) are the focus of multiple children’s books. Here at Josey Lane in Carrollton, we commonly recommend books like Daniel Tiger or Bernstein Bears to parents to read to their children. These books help explain what a child will experience before visiting the dentist and help calm any jittery nerves. Books are a great way to illustrate the unknown and bring clarity and calmness to new situations.
In addition to these popular pieces, children’s literature also focuses on smiles as they relate to emotions. Children’s books about happiness may not get as much attention as books about more difficult emotions like anger, fear, and anxiety, but they are just as necessary for a complete home library.
Young adult novels
Many times, a lead character in a young adult novel is marked by one physical characteristic. For example, Harry Potter is described by his lightning-bolt scar emblazoned on his forehead. Teeth, on the other hand—particularly fanged teeth—have been highlighted in well–known novels that feature vampires like Twilight and other thrillers that have characters who can morph between human and werewolf. In most cases, teeth like this are used to set an ominous scene and are sometimes used to elicit references to pain and suffering.
No, not THAT kind of adult literature.
You might remember reading Beowulf in your high school English class. And while you might not remember all the details, you can probably recall this fierce monster who terrorized sleeping warriors with his “powerful jaws.” The vivid imagery of this blood-sucking beast sends shivers down the spines of readers to this day.
Another piece of classic English literature, The Canterbury Tales, uses teeth to describe characters—and not always in the most favorable way. In this work, the Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is described as being “gap-toothed.” In 14th-century England, this description inferred the woman was friendly with the opposite sex, and possibly not always faithful to her husband.
Fast forward to more modern works, and Charles Dickens used the illusion of straight, white teeth to symbolize that someone was untrustworthy since, during those times, it was more common to see decaying or missing teeth due to the lack of oral care options. He also would choose to give characters with dubious character the trait of false teeth to continue the narrative of deception.
Since your smile is the first thing that many people notice, authors carefully describe teeth, mouths and smiles in their characters to set the scene. What example of teeth in literature can you think of? We’d love to add it to the list!