Hansel and Gretel never fully recovered from the gingerbread house. Yes, there was the psychological trauma of their imprisonment and torture, but there were also their teeth. For weeks, they’d been force-fed gumdrops and marshmallows without ever being allowed to brush. Although their late father had been but a poor woodcutter, he’d always stressed the importance of dental hygiene. The witch hadn’t cared. She’d been planning to eat almost everything except the teeth. Now, their mouths were full of cavities and their tongues swam in swamps of pus and blood.
Hansel and Gretel decided to go to the dentist.
What the receptionist said made Gretel shriek.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said. “That’s our cheapest option. We aren’t tooth fairies. We have a business to run here.”
“But we have health insurance!” Hansel said.
“That only covers your body, not your teeth,” the receptionist said. There was a bowl of lollipops in front of her. The receptionist unwrapped a green one and sucked.
“My teeth are part of my body. See?” Gretel pointed a finger at her inflamed gums.
“Not for the purposes of medical coverage.” The receptionist handed the siblings a couple brochures. “I’d also recommend vision insurance. You can never be too careful with your eyes and teeth. You’ve only got one set of each.”
Hansel and Gretel were broke. Their father had injured himself chopping wood and the hospital bills had gobbled up all the pearls they’d smuggled from the witch’s gingerbread house as easily as a bird pecking breadcrumbs from the forest floor.
Hansel and Gretel walked out of the dentist’s office, blood in their mouths.
“Bunch of crooks,” Hansel said.
“Highway robbery,” Gretel mumbled.
But it was the same at the second dentist office and also at the third. Every dentist in the village wanted to charge exorbitant fees that were multiplied by the large number of diseased teeth.
The siblings went to a local apothecary and spent their last coins on herbal teas and twig brushes. Nothing worked. They stopped chewing food and ate only mush and soup. At night, Hansel moaned either in pain or in memory of his time in the witch’s cage while Gretel rubbed his head and said, “there, there.”
One day, their rabbit trap caught something strange. A small goblin with perfect white teeth.
“Where did you get those pearly whites?” Gretel demanded.
The goblin trembled in the wooden rabbit trap. “I’m not allowed to say.”
“Then we’ll have to eat you up,” Hansel said, although his jaw ached at the thought of chewing notoriously tough goblin flesh.
Hansel raised his father’s ax.
“Okay! Okay! You got me,” the goblin said. “I can lead you to a magical dentist who can fix any mouth.”
“Where?” Gretel asked.
“Her house is deep in the forest. I’ll show you, I promise.”
The siblings withdrew behind a tangled bush to discuss. They were both hesitant to trust a goblin—and a green one at that!—and they remembered what happened last time they went strolling through the deep dark woods. But what choice did they have? So they made a deal with the goblin, whose name was Gunther.
Gretel went back to their house and grabbed a handful of pebbles from the driveway. They were as white and sharp as teeth. She wouldn’t make the mistake of breadcrumbs again! The three went off into the black forest. Hansel held his father’s ax and Gretel dropped a pebble every so often.
After a couple hours, Gunther started chattering his teeth in fear. “Oh no,” he said through the clacking. “I’m going to ruin them already.”
“What are you afraid of?” Gretel asked. Yet Gunther had already run off. The siblings watched his flailing green arms disappear into the forest.
It didn’t matter. They could see their destination in a clearing ahead. It was a big white cottage in the shape of a single tooth.
When they got to the front yard, they realized the cottage was made of countless tiny teeth. Molars, incisors, and canines all stuck together with a gummy glue. The must have been thousands—no millions—of teeth.
“Let’s go back,” Hansel said, sensibly.
Gretel ran a jealous finger along a row of smooth wisdoms. Her own teeth throbbed with pain. “No one will help us in town, Hansel. This is our only chance to smile again.”
The jawbone door opened and a witch came out wearing a long white coat. She had a mask over her mouth and a magical amulet on her forehead that shone in their eyes.
“Well, well. What have we here?”
Hansel and Gretel were so shocked they couldn’t speak. Their mouths hung wide in fear.
The witch peered into their open mouths and examined their bleeding gums and rotting teeth.
“Haven’t you children got a sweet tooth.”
“It’s not our fault!” Gretel protested.
“We weren’t allowed to brush,” Hansel said.
“No, matter, no matter. Let’s strap you into the examination chair.”
The children didn’t move. They held each other’s hands and hung their heads.
“We don’t have any dental insurance,” Hansel said.
The witch pulled down her facemask. She stared at them. Then she cackled. “I guess we’ll just have to work out an alternate payment plan.”
The witch yanked off a couple rows of tooth siding for the operation, then took Hansel and Gretel in the house. The inside was very clean but contained a strange smell. It seemed to be coming from the locked wooden door that led to the basement.
“Did something die down there?” Gretel said.
The witch sniffed with her hairy green schnoz. “Hmm, must be my dental supplies. I guess I’m just used to the smell.”
There was a big wooden chair in the center of the room with leather straps. Hansel volunteered to go first while Gretel stood watch. The witch used a silver wand and metal pliers to yank out and replace all of Hansel’s teeth. There was a lot of blood. Yet, after rinsing out his mouth, Hansel admired his beautiful new smile.
“Wow, they’re so white and free of cracks,” he said.
Gretel then got the yank, bleed, and replace treatment. They both danced across the molar floor and thanked the witch profusely.
“Good, good!” the witch said, grinning to show her own long teeth. “Now, let’s talk payment.”
And so Hansel and Gretel began their new life as assistants to the dentist witch. Although the witch called them hygienists, most of their time was spent procuring new teeth. “You can never have enough stock,” the witch would say and send them to graveyard with a pair of spades and pliers.
The witch had calculated their debt at one thousand teeth each. Hansel protested—they’d only used 28 apiece after all—but the witch said this was standard markup plus time, labor, and overhead. The witch put magic collars on their necks that would cause them to howl in pain if they didn’t meet their weekly quotas. “This is called an incentive,” the witch said. The only other rules were that they had to brush the walls of teeth every week and they were forbidden to go into the dark basement.
The siblings worked for the witch for some time. They dug up graves until their hands were filled with splinters from the wooden handles of their spades. They knocked out teeth from skulls until the metal blades were filled with dings. And they ripped their clothes scrambling away as the police and priests ran into the graveyard to stop them.
A few times, to make their quota, Hansel had to pick fights with ruffians and aim for the jaw. Gretel would collect the teeth when they fell in the dirt.
But eventually there were no more teeth to pull out or pick up. They’d dug up all the graves in the surrounding towns and Hansel had been beat up so often that he’d lost half the teeth the witch had given him. They tried bringing the witch a bag of dog teeth, but she wasn’t fooled.
“You’ll have to live here as my servants now. Clean up the blood from the floor and feed me my breakfast in bed!”
When they tried to run away, their enchanted collars burned their necks. The siblings couldn’t believe they’d been trapped again by yet another evil witch. Life was as rotten as their old teeth.
Then one day, when all the customers had gone home and the witch was snoring on her bed of nails, Gretel heard a sound.
She crept over and pressed her ear against the door that led to the basement.
“There’s someone down there,” she said.
Hansel trembled. He ran his tongue the between gaps in his teeth. “If we go down there, she’ll add another hundred teeth to our bill!”
But Gretel had gotten sick of the witch and sick of working such a degrading job with no chance of advancement or escape. She took the black keychain out of the witch’s coat pocket, which was hung on the back of the examination chair, and opened the basement door.
The siblings crept down the dark stairs with only a candle to light the way. The basement was dark and dusty. Rats and spiders scuttled away from their candlelight. The teeth that made up the walls and floor were yellow and moldy.
“Help,” a small voice cried.
They saw a shivering creature with metallic wings chained to the wall.
“Hello,” Gretel said. “I’m Gretel and this is Hansel. We’re the dental hygienists. Why are you down here?”
The decrepit fairy looked up at them. “This is my house!” she cried.
“Your house?” Hansel said.
“Yes, my house! I’m a tooth fairy. I built this cottage out of all the teeth I collected from little boys and girls. Then the witch came and locked me in the basement and stole all my equipment and started selling the teeth I bought fair and square.”
“She’s evil!” Hansel said. “She makes us steal teeth from corpses to pay our dental bill.”
“Let me free and I’ll relieve you of your debt!” the fairy said.
Gretel scrambled over with the keys as quick as she could. They tried all the keys and finally the last one worked. The fairy flew with her metallic wings and grabbed a wand that was hanging on the wall from a pair of perpendicular front teeth. She cast two zaps at Hansel and Gretel and their enchanted necklaces fell on the floor.
The siblings laughed and hugged each other. Meanwhile, the fairy flew right up the steps and jabbed out the witch’s eyes while she slept. A pained shriek filled the house. The fairy sliced off the witch’s tongue and pulled off her ears with two big pops.
Hansel and Gretel ran upstairs to join the fun.
Gretel smacked the witch’s teeth out of her mouth one by one with a spade. The witch screamed gurgles of blood. Hansel grabbed his father’s ax and chopped the witch up from toes to head, as if she was one very long and very green sausage.
Together, the fairy, Gretel, and Hansel cleaned up the blood and agreed to go into business together.
“We’ll be an ethical dentistry practice,” Hansel said.
“We can charge fair rates and pay our employees enough that they never have to worry about going hungry or not affording needed medical procedures,” Gretel added.
They got to work filling out the paperwork. Pretty soon, the shop opened. They had regular vacation days and sometimes the fairy would roast healthy vegetables while the siblings laid out bread and meat—although never any candy—for team dinners to build morale.
They all lived happily, for a time.
However, in the way things tend to go, their practice wasn’t sustainable. The house was located too far in the woods to attract a large enough customer base. They spent a lot of money and effort trying to publicize the magical dentist office to no avail. The fairy sold the tooth house to a pair of wealthy gnomes and flew away while Hansel and Gretel headed back to town, just as destitute as before, and pretty soon their teeth once again throbbed in pain.