Dustin Henderson, played by actor Gaten Matarazzo, is one of the most beloved characters on Stranger Things. From his humor and loyalty to his unmistakable curly hair and gapped smile, Dustin adds both comedic relief and heart to the show. But fans have been puzzled by one aspect of Dustin’s appearance—the apparent loss of his teeth not once, but twice over the course of the show.
Dustin’s First Missing Teeth
When we’re first introduced to Dustin in Season 1, set in November 1983, he is 12 years old and missing his two front teeth. At that age, it’s common for kids to start losing their baby teeth as the permanent adult teeth begin pushing through. So initially, it seems straightforward that Dustin simply lost those two teeth as part of the normal development process.
The average age range for a child to lose their first baby tooth is between 6 and 7. By age 12 or 13, most kids have lost all their baby teeth as the larger permanent teeth take their place. Given Dustin’s age in the show, it makes sense that he would be right in the midst of this tooth turnover phase.
Losing those two central incisors creates Dustin’s signature gapped smile that we see throughout the first season. While maybe embarrassing for a preteen, it’s a normal part of growing up. But that still leaves the question of why Dustin’s adult teeth hadn’t yet grown in to fill that gap by the age of 12.
There are a few possible explanations for why Dustin was still missing his permanent front teeth in Season 1:
Delayed Tooth Eruption
The eruption or emergence of permanent teeth can sometimes be delayed and happen later than average. While most kids get their front adult teeth around ages 6-7, in rarer cases they may not push through until closer to ages 8-9.
If Dustin was on the later end of the spectrum for his incisors erupting, it could explain why his baby teeth were lost but no adult teeth had yet replaced them. He may have been a “late bloomer” in terms of his dental maturation.
A study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology looked at the eruption timing of permanent teeth in a sample of 7,751 children. They found that for the upper central incisors, the average age was 6.83 years with a standard deviation of +1.45 years.
So while most kids had their adult front top teeth by age 7, those on the outliers didn’t get them until age 9. Perhaps Dustin fell into that outlier group with delayed eruption.
Hereditary Dental Factors
Genetics can also play a role in tooth eruption patterns. Research has shown that timing of primary and permanent tooth emergence runs in families and varies among ethnicities.
If Dustin’s parents were late tooth growers, he may have inherited a genetic predisposition for slower dental development. Having a sibling or parent who also got teeth later than average could help explain his missing incisors in Season 1.
Additionally, the wider craniofacial structure can impact tooth crowding and eruption space. Dustin may have a narrower palate or other inherited facial features that caused his permanent teeth to emerge later.
Potential Dental Trauma
In some cases, an injury to the mouth area at an early age can damage the underlying permanent tooth buds. These buds contain the immature adult teeth before they are ready to erupt through the gums. But trauma to the jaw or face may disrupt the development, leading to missing or malformed permanent teeth later on.
If Dustin had an accident that impacted his front tooth buds, it could have prevented or impaired those incisors from developing properly. Knocked out or malformed incisor buds would leave him missing those teeth, while his neighboring baby teeth fell out on schedule.
While not confirmed, it’s possible a childhood dental injury led to the gap in his smile in Season 1. A damaged jawbone or tooth bud may have caused only those two central incisors to be affected without impacting his other permanent teeth.
Congenitally Missing Teeth
A very rare possibility is that Dustin was congenitally missing his permanent maxillary central incisors. Congenital absence or agenesis of teeth affects less than 1% of the population but is sometimes linked to genetic disorders.
If Dustin had congenitally missing front teeth, those incisors would never naturally form, leaving gaps where his baby teeth used to be. However, congenital absence of just the two central incisors is extremely uncommon, making it doubtful this was the cause.
But in theory, an anomalous lack of adult teeth could explain why Dustin still had a gap at 12 years old. Just the developmental absence of those incisors would prevent his baby tooth gaps from filling in.
Dustin Gets His Permanent Teeth
After Season 1 ends in November 1983, there is a time jump before Season 2 picks up in October 1984. This roughly 11-month gap from the end of freshman year to start of sophomore year allows for change and maturation in the characters.
When we rejoin Dustin and the kids at the start of Season 2, now set in fall of 1984, Dustin suddenly has a full set of teeth, including his previously missing front incisors. To the shock of viewers, his gap is gone and has been replaced with permanent adult teeth.
The time jump was necessary to align with Gaten Matarazzo’s real dental changes. Matarazzo was born with cleidocranial dysplasia, affecting development of his teeth and bones. He did not have permanent front teeth as a child.
To match this, Matarazzo wore removable fake teeth while filming Season 1. But later before Season 2, the actor got dental implants at age 14.
So for Season 2, creators the Duffer Brothers used the time jump to show Dustin’s teeth coming in, matching Matarazzo’s real growth pattern. The year gap allowed Dustin to plausibly naturally grow his missing front incisors to align with the actor’s new smile.
Typical Tooth Development
This dental change from Season 1 to 2 fits with the normal eruption timeline. Most children have their permanent maxillary central incisors by ages 6-7. In Dustin’s case, his were just slightly delayed.
The year between Season 1 and 2 covers ages 12 to 13. Catching up those last baby teeth just in time for his 13th birthday is reasonable and reflects an average rate of development.
Losing all baby teeth and getting a full set of permanent teeth by age 13 is considered standard dental maturity. So Dustin getting his missing front teeth as he enters his teenage years makes developmental sense.
Importance of the Time Jump
Without that significant time jump between seasons, it wouldn’t make as much sense for Dustin to suddenly have his adult teeth. Just a few months wouldn’t be enough time for him to naturally go from no front incisors to a full set.
Having that gap of nearly a year does two key things:
- It allows Dustin to plausibly grow those missing teeth as part of normal maturation. A year provides enough time for delayed incisors to finally erupt.
- It lets the show align to Gaten Matarazzo’s real dental work. The extended timeline makes Dustin’s tooth gain believable and parallels the actor’s implants.
The time jump was the perfect narrative device to enable Dustin’s dental changes between seasons. It maintained continuity for both the character and the actor playing him.
Dustin Loses His Teeth Again
After just getting his permanent teeth in Season 2, in episode 4 (“Will the Wise”), Dustin is attacked by a Demodog in the storm cellar.
During this violent confrontation, Dustin has his two front teeth knocked out by the force of the Demodog. He ends up losing those same permanent incisors that only recently grew in.
This time, the cause of Dustin’s tooth loss is dental trauma, not the normal shedding of baby teeth. The damage causes his new grown-in adult teeth to be knocked out, leaving him toothless again for the remainder of the season.
Unlike when his baby teeth fell out, when permanent teeth are lost due to injury, they typically cannot grow back in on their own. So Dustin is likely stuck with this gap until he can get dental treatment to replace the missing teeth.
Why Show Dustin Losing His Teeth Again?
Having Dustin lose his permanent teeth serves several storytelling and character purposes:
Maintains Character Continuity
Dustin’s gap-toothed grin is an iconic part of his character look. When he got his full set of teeth in Season 2, he lost some of that visual identity.
Knocking those teeth out again brings back his trademark incomplete smile. This helps maintain a more consistent look and feel to the character that viewers are familiar with.
It also nods to actor Gaten Matarazzo’s own toothless smile before getting dental implants. Keeping Dustin gap-toothed aligns with Matarazzo’s natural look at the time.
Reflects Actor Growth Pattern
As mentioned, Matarazzo was born without front adult teeth due to cleidocranial dysplasia affecting his dental development.
The choice to show Dustin’s teeth being knocked out essentially resets this dental condition and puts Dustin back on the same toothless path as Matarazzo at that age.
It reflects the reality that people with cleidocranial dysplasia often require dental surgery or implants to compensate for congenitally missing teeth as they get older.
Demonstrates Danger Faced
Losing his front teeth so violently demonstrates the life-threatening danger Dustin and the other kids are facing with the Demogorgons and Demodogs.
This isn’t just child’s play; they are going up against forces powerful enough to knock teeth out and kill. It raises both the stakes and threats they are battling.
Allows Dustin to Provide Proof
After losing his teeth to the Demodog, Dustin then leverages the missing teeth as proof when trying to convince Lucas and Mike that he fought a real monster.
He uses the gap as evidence that something terrible attacked him, making his story more believable. So the tooth loss ends up serving a narrative purpose in getting his friends on board.
Provides Coming-of-Age Symbolism
Losing baby teeth is a childhood rite of passage, representing innocence. But losing adult teeth to injury is symbolic of sacrificing one’s childhood through violence and trauma.
After getting a glimpse of young adulthood with his new teeth in Season 2, having them knocked out forcefully steals a bit of Dustin’s youth and foreshadows darker times ahead.
Will Dustin Get Dental Implants?
At the end of Season 2, Dustin is left with his missing front teeth after the Demodog attack. But unlike when his baby teeth fell out, these lost permanent teeth can’t grow back in naturally. So will he opt to get dental implants?
There are a few factors that may influence whether or not Dustin chooses to get implant teeth as a teenager:
Time Setting Limitations
Stranger Things is set in the 1980s, when dental implant technology was still relatively new and expensive compared to today.
While implants existed in the 1980s, they were not nearly as advanced or common as they are now. It’s possible the Henderson family couldn’t afford them for Dustin as a kid.
Additionally, the number of dentists trained on implants and pediatric cases may have been more limited than today. The state of dental and orthodontic care in the 80s may preclude implants as an option for Dustin until he’s older.
Time Jumps Between Seasons
If there are significant time jumps between future seasons, it may allow for Dustin to plausibly get dental implant treatment during a gap.
Big time jumps between Season 1 and 2 and between 2 and 3 could bookend implant placement, similar to actor Gaten Matarazzo’s real life dental work timeline.
Fast forwarding a few years would make tooth replacement more believable. But keeping the in-show timeline tight may mean Dustin has to wait.
Plot and Characterization Significance
Dustin’s missing front teeth are a defining part of his underdog character and relationship to Gaten Matarazzo’s natural look.
The show may want to keep Dustin gap-toothed until later seasons just to maintain the character familiarity and tie to Matarazzo’s upbringing.
Ultimately whether Dustin gets implants could depend on if the showrunners feel he needs to “grow up” and want to use it as a milestone in his coming-of-age story.
For now fans will have to keep watching to see if Dustin regains his full smile or remains forever gap-toothed!
Dustin’s twice-missing teeth is a unique and sometimes puzzling aspect of Stranger Things. While seemingly a continuity error at first, the teeth actually serve important narrative and symbolic purposes.
The initial tooth loss mirrors average dental development, while the time jump allows for realistic maturation aligned with actor Gaten Matarazzo’s growth. Knocking the new teeth out brings back Dustin’s childlike look and demonstrates the gravity of the threats they face.
Moving forward, the show may choose to keep the gap as part of Dustin’s underdog identity. Or utilize time jumps and dental advancements to show his teenage transition into adulthood via obtaining the implants he lacks.
Ultimately his teeth exemplify both the ordinary preteen experience and the pain of having childhood innocence damaged. The double tooth loss reflects Dustin’s character dua between average adolescent and extraordinary hero.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did Dustin have teeth in Season 2 after being toothless in Season 1?
The time jump between seasons allowed Dustin’s permanent adult teeth to naturally come in off-screen, fitting with normal dental development. Actor Gaten Matarazzo also got dental implants between filming.
How did Dustin lose his front teeth again in Season 2?
Dustin’s permanent teeth were knocked out when a Demodog violently attacked him in the storm cellar. The trauma caused irreplaceable loss of those incisors.
Will Dustin ever get dental implants like the actor?
He may eventually get implant teeth when he’s older if there are big time jumps between future seasons. The 1980s setting and costs may delay implants, but it could show his maturity.
Did Gaten Matarazzo have fake teeth in Season 1?
Yes, in Season 1 Matarazzo wore removable false teeth while playing gap-toothed Dustin. In real life he later got implants, allowing Dustin to have permanent looking teeth in Season 2 onward.
Why show Dustin with missing teeth again?
It brings back his iconic look, aligns with Matarazzo’s real childhood smile, shows dangers faced, provides “proof” of monster attacks, and symbolizes loss of innocence through trauma.