Friday, 30 November 2012
ODONTOPHILIA: A FETISH FOR TEETH
I think of America as the land of white teeth. Very white teeth. Teeth that have a phosphorescent gleam -- they glow in the dark. White teeth are a sign of good health and are a necessary part of a beautification and grooming regime. The trend has moved over here to the UK; we now have pearly white teeth too.
We’ll go to a lot of trouble and expense to get white teeth. Visits to the dentist are costly, but that doesn’t put us off. We go for porcelain veneers, bleaching with peroxide. Pain isn’t an issue -- I am told that treatment with lasers can leave your teeth with an excruciating sensitivity. Even so, people rush for the treatment in their thousands. Tooth brushes are getting more and more high tech, with timers that give each section of your mouth appropriate attention. You can get high pressure dental washes. For £85 you can get a smile like the one above.
Here’s the blurb.
“Worried about stained teeth? For fabulous teeth cleaning in London which delivers outstanding cosmetic results, our popular High Gloss Diamond Polish is right for you.”
Tempting -- isn’t it?
Perhaps the closest we get to identifying an obsession with teeth is through vampire stories and films. These equate teeth, especially long canine teeth with danger. The vampire will pierce your vein and sip your blood straight from the jugular -- if the vampire takes too much you will die and according to some vampire lore, you will become a vampire, roaming the night in search of prey. Vampires are sexy. Anne Rice, I think, made them sexy. Following the predatory Lestat, came True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries -- the list goes on.
Centuries ago poor people would sell their teeth.
“The sound teeth for transplanting of course came from the poor, and there was apparently no lack of volunteers, particularly from the young and healthy, who were the preferred source of teeth. The procedure was that there should be several of these unfortunates on hand. If the first person’s tooth did not suit, then one from the next person should be instantly extracted and tried. Once a reasonable fit had been achieved, the transplanted tooth had to be immobilised by tying it to the adjacent tooth with silver wire or silk thread, and with luck, the tooth would eventually take root. Sometimes even cadavers were used, but not surprisingly, they didn’t take.”
There is an erotic obsession for teeth and a sexual fetish too. Odontophilia. Edgar Allan Poe wrote about it in his short story, “Berenice”.
The narrator, Egaeus, is a studious young man who grows up in a large gloomy mansion with his cousin Berenice. He suffers from a type of obsessive disorder, a monomania that makes him fixate on objects. She, originally beautiful, suffers from some unspecified degenerative illness, with periods of catalepsy a particular symptom, which he refers to as a trance. Nevertheless, they are due to be married.
One afternoon, Egaeus sees Berenice as he sits in the library. When she smiles, he focuses on her teeth. His obsession grips him, and for days he drifts in and out of awareness, constantly thinking about the teeth. He imagines himself holding the teeth and turning them over to examine them from all angles. At one point a servant tells him that Berenice has died and shall be buried. When he next becomes aware, with an inexplicable terror, he finds a lamp and a small box in front of him. Another servant enters, reporting that a grave has been violated, and a shrouded disfigured body found, still alive. Egaeus finds his clothes are covered in mud and blood, and opens the box to find it contains dental instruments and "thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances" – Berenice's teeth.
“Berenice” was first published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835.
I stole Poe’s idea about the death of a beautiful woman with excellent teeth for my short story “Winnat’s Pass. You can read it in M.Christian’s anthology; “The Love that Never Dies"; erotic encounters with the undead”
Here is the final paragraph from Winnat’s Pass.
They called in the visiting preacher. He spoke of the devil and evil. Of the dead being raised for depraved purposes. He spent the night in the room to pray to God, for cleansing. He emerged in the morning, pale and trembling.
When the serving maid cleaned the room for the next occupant, she found six tiny, white, sharply pointed beads scattered on the floor.
She stared at them curiously.
The serving maid, whose name was Emma Louise slipped them in her pocket. The surgeons would pay good money for them. Once she’d worked as a lady’s maid, to a wealthy spinster. The wealthy spinster was toothless. Her surgeon had made her new teeth, fashioned from the teeth of a dead woman.”
You can probably find somewhere in the world a fetish for everything. Odontophilia, may not be common, or something you readily here about; but it is there, I am sure…