The first tooth came, and the rest of them followed. This would not have been an issue if I didn’t already have a full set to begin with.
It was innocuous enough; a late-season wisdom tooth emerging in the back of my gums. “It’s crooked,” my boyfriend said. “Shows how badly you needed braces.” My mother told me that I had always been a late bloomer in a way that was not a compliment. When another wisdom tooth came in on the opposite side, I wrote that one off, too, as normal.
I started panicking when the canine came in.
It grew in above my existing set, curving downward around them like the outer petals of a flower. I called in sick to work so that I could stand in the mirror and splay my lips and stare in horror, running my tongue over the bumps and ridges of the intruder.
The incisor came next. Then a premolar.
When he left me, my boyfriend said that it wasn’t about the teeth.
I ugly-cried in the aftermath and felt my lips crack and bleed as they stretched to contour each new bone. If you search for it, the internet is full of tips on how to hide your extra teeth. The articles say that no one is going to want to kiss you with shark-teeth like that. They advise praying and pulling and floss tied to doorknobs. None of it works.
His new girlfriend is nineteen with a perfect set of pearly whites. She smiles in their photos and I sprout new teeth like seedlings.
I begin to memorize each one. Learn the telltale pain of a new arrival. Feel the way they interlock over each other, the way they clack together when I thank the bus driver or sing along to the radio.
Nine months after the first molar comes, I have a complete second set. They are new and sharp and blindingly white. I can whistle with my fingers. I can cut through anything if I gnaw on it for long enough. I never have to worry about fish bones or wear my retainer again.
When the first tooth in the third layer comes, I open a bottle of wine and gnaw on ice cubes to numb the pain of transition. I stand in the mirror, lips splayed in the two-drinks deep haze, and imagine how I will look when they have all come in. Think that, for the first time, those men on the street might be right: I am so much prettier when I smile.
Kate Doughty (she/her) is a writer and lover of all things strange & spooky. Find her on Twitter at @DoughtyK2 and at katedoughtywrites.com.