A few nights ago, I dreamed that I lost a tooth. A molar. It shattered, filling my mouth with tooth chips and blood. I had to leave church and find a dentist.

So there was this woman in a waiting room yesterday today. Not a dentist's waiting room, in case you were wondering. Anyway, she had her tiny daughter sprawled sleeping across her lap. As I walked into the room, the door chimed to announce my arrival. And this puffy haggard little woman looked up and assured me that "She sleeps through anything."

I hadn't been worried about waking the child, but I smiled at her. She had obviously been waiting quite a while, and was obviously bored. There was nobody visible behind the counter. "Was she a preemie?" I asked, looking at the toddler. Preemies interest me. My niece was born three months early, weighing only one pound. She's seven years old now, intelligent and full of beans.

"No," said the toddler's mom, "the Down's Syndrome keeps her small." Oh. I hadn't even noticed.

There ensued a surreal conversation, the whole of which I will not recount here. But it culminated in her disclosure that the child's father was in the hospital. When I asked what was wrong she said, "He's havin' all his teeth out. I had mine out last year. It's much healthier."

Outside my husband, who is nobody's father, wonders what would cause people to have all their teeth removed. "Poverty," I explained. "Malnutrition, and no dental care.

It was sobering, but also hilarious. I don't really know what to think, but I am brushing and flossing with renewed diligence.