When You Sell Mom’s Teeth

Creative Nonfiction By Arlaina Tibensky

When you finally get the guts to find Mom’s stash of 14k dental gold and look to cashing it in, you’re broke. When you hold the bridge in your palm, it’s heavier than it looks and the gold is dark and in need of a polish. When you breathe deep and get close, the crowns cling to a paper-thin coating of her tooth enamel and the last jolts of her vibrate from the precious metal to your fingers. When she died you wanted to hold on to everything of hers you could, but now all you want is to get rid of any remains. When you tap the number on the “Lippincott, Incorporated, Dental Recycle Division” brochure she’d rubber banded to the oversized amber prescription bottle, you feel as medieval and gruesome as a grave robber. When Lippincott insists that “cash in the bank is better than dental SCRAP sitting in your drawer gathering dust,” you reluctantly agree and tap out the toll-free number on your iPhone screen, only to learn the number has been disconnected.

When your mom first started having maxillofacial issues with her mouth, she ignored the burning and the buzzing. When it got intolerable, she consulted Chinese herbalists, psychics and hundreds of dentists. When medical doctors prescribed bottomless amounts of Gabapentin to numb her nerves, she took the pills. When dentists told her to gnaw on bags of raw baby carrots to stimulate her salivary glands, she did. When they told her she was allergic to the amalgam in her cavities, she replaced all her dental work with pure gold. When she died, she was five-foot-four and weighed ninety pounds and her mouth had become inadequate for eating, her life too painful to endure. When she smiled near the end without her ill-fitting partial in place, your once buxom, vivacious and glamorous mother was unrecognizable, a walking skeleton with few teeth left, and the remaining stumps were shocking—pointed and the color of orange sherbet.

When you Google Lippincott, “GOLDkit” pops up as a sponsored link. When the GOLDkit arrives in your mailbox you fill out the paperwork, seal the gold in the provided baggie and send it to Boca Raton, Florida via FedEx, postage paid, fully insured, like returning shoes you couldn’t afford to Zappos.com. When they email you an offer, five days later, it’s grief-free magic and you’re a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin. When you wait for their proposal, you know your mother and Lippincott were right, “there is value associated with the precious metal SCRAP in this old dental work and it is worth your time to exchange it for CASH.” Whatever the amount, you know you’ll take it, you’re broke remember, and she wanted you to have it. When their offer of $150.30 arrives, you click ACCEPT without hesitation. When the baby-blue Lippincott check comes in an unmarked envelope, you sign the back and cash it that same afternoon, convincing yourself—who else is there?—that it’s only money.

Arlaina Tibensky

Arlaina Tibensky’s writing has appeared in One StorySmokelong Quarterly, Stanchion, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and has been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest. Her YA novel, And Things Fall Apart, about a Sylvia Plath-obsessed teen, was a Junior Library Guild Selection. She received a 2024 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and is working on a new novel.