Physical Attribute Entry: Teeth

Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.


Descriptors: white, polished, orderly, straight, crooked, snaggle-tooth, twisted, yellowed, nicotine-stained, grey, rotten, pearly, buck toothed, healthy, bright, jutted, cracked, missing teeth, braces, crowns, capped, baby teeth, over sized, spaced, gaps, worn, overbite, under bite, sensitive teeth, aching, veneers, broken, dentures, false teeth, bridges, grinding, painful, implants, crowded, blackened, cavity-riddled, bumpy, loose, fanged, uneven, pointed, bent, chipped

Things Teeth Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions):

Cut: rip, slice, tear, shred, rend, split, cleave, pierce, strip

Chew: masticate, gnaw, mash, dent, grind, flatten, crush, chomp, nibble, wad

*Special* Teeth also impact the sound of a person's speech. Someone with missing teeth might adopt a slight whistle to some of their words. When dentures are removed, some words can sounds a bit muffled or slurry.

Key Emotions and Related Teeth Actions: 

Rage: Bearing the teeth at another; forcing harsh breaths through clenched teeth; biting to hurt or maim
Frustration: Tight jaw, teeth clamped; grinding teeth, tapping teeth together
Desire: licking teeth; rubbing the tongue over grooves, pulling in moisture; playful biting

Simile and Metaphor Help: 
Straight: His smile was a white picket fence.
Whitened:  The politician flashed so many 'trust me' smiles that I felt like a celebrity facing down the paparazzi.

Clichés to Avoid:

Having "horse" teeth, that people from Britain have bad teeth; being told candy will rot your teeth; clenched teeth

HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: Alan was efficient to the core. He didn't savor his food, taking small, considerate bites, pausing to reflect on the complex flavors of the citrus duck and saffron rice stuffing. No, instead he shoveled in bite after bite, his teeth tearing and mashing, consuming fuel to power the machine.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 


Natalie Aguirre said...

Happy Birthday Lenny!

And great post. I wasn't sure what you'd do with the topic of teeth. But as usual, you have great suggestions.

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post on teeth. Lots of helpful descriptors.


Theresa Milstein said...

Here's to giving Lenny Lee a big, pearly smile for his birthday!

Jemi Fraser said...

Happy Birthday Lenny!!

Love the teeth description - so helpful! :)

Nicholas Redd said...

Great post. Great teeth.

klahanie said...

Hi there,

Oh yes, my favourite young human blogger, Lenny has his birthday today! :) Yay Lenny and may he have a most fun time on his birthday.

Hey, what an informative article and your analogies are appreciated. Indeed, a pawsting, sorry, a posting that I could get my teeth into. Yep, canine teeth.

Pawsitive wishes, Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet star, upgraded to superstar status! :)

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss angela and miss becca!

could you guess what my teeth are doing right now??? yep! theyre smiling the most biggest smile ever. i opened your present and WOWEEE its your emotion thesaurus. for sure that put a smile on my face. i already been using stuff off you posts in my writing and now i got my very own book.

thanks! thanks! thanks!

and thanks for the cool happy birthday wish on this post.

...hugs from lenny

Becca Puglisi said...

Happy, happy birthday, Lenny! I hope you get tons of use out of your gift :).

Ange, I love the example of Alan's tearing and mashing teeth :)

Tracy Campbell said...

Thank you for another wonderful post.
Happy Birthday, Lenny!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I'm so glad you sent Lenny your book for his birthday! I know he is going to love it!!!!!

I hadn't really thought about my characters teeth before, but I am revising, so I will look for the perfect place to mention them.

Happy Birthday, Lenny!!!

Angela Ackerman said...

Lenny, I hope you had a great Birthday! As you can see, you have made an impact on so many! Keep being awesome!

Traci Kenworth said...

Great ideas!! Being a horror writer, sometimes I have to focus on teeth and these will definitely help sharpen the image I want to project. Thanks!!

Old Kitty said...

People from Britain have bad teeth?!!? LOL! Who started this rumour!??! LOL!

Awww happy birthday to Lenny! Take care

Leslie S. Rose said...

Could Lenny be any sweeter? What a bright spot in the universe. I catch myself staring at people's teeth. I hope there's a 12 step program to get over that.


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