Dr. David Gundersen considers himself the first person to name the tooth fairy.
The Fitchburg dentist’s second children’s book, titled “Dentina,” lays claim to that fame.
“Dentina,” published in 2018, tells the story of a cynical tooth fairy with purple hair. This book, and his first book, “Blacktooth,” have messages to make dental hygiene fun but also divulge deeper meanings for children and parents.
As a teacher in Compton, California, Gundersen heard complaints of tooth pain from his students. The students would pull back their cheek to reveal a mouth full of rotten teeth.
“‘Mr. Gundersen, my mouth hurts,’” he recalled the children saying. “It was tragic.”
He wanted to become a dentist to administer direct care. He knew children couldn’t learn while experiencing mouth pain, he said. After a 16 year career in public health policy, he graduated from the Marquette University’s School of Dentistry in 2011.
Two years ago, he started writing his children’s book under the pen name Davie Fletcher.
“These books wrote themselves,” he said. “It was kind of a compulsion, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a compulsion to do anything like this before.”
His first book “Blacktooth,” tells the “kind of true tale” of why every dentist office carries a treasure chest. Gundersen remembers the inspiration of the book coming from young patients.
He would tell them the story of the tough dentists, bribed by scary pirates. The pirates bribe dentists because if pirates had clean teeth, they would lose their bad reputations.
After explaining the story, Gundersen would guide patients to the treasure chest sitting in his dental office full of toys, proof of the pirate bribes.
Yet, some patients still did not believe him.
“I had a kid that would hear this (story) and say, ‘You know, I’m going to have to Google that,’” Gundersen said. “So I decided I needed to write the story.”
The dentist in that story is a woman of unknown ethnicity, rather than a white man, which is what people typically picture when they see a dentist, Gundersen said, and the main character is a black girl.
“You can stop to think, well, what does it mean to be a young girl and what does it mean to be African American?” Gundersen said.
Throughout his second book, “Dentina,” the cynical purpled-haired tooth fairy stopped believing in children, thinking they only desired her money. She discovers through a series of notes that the children she visits instead want Dentina to help their sick friend.
The subtle message, Gundersen said, is that people are always cynical about younger generations. He believes, however, if children are raised with the right stuff – meaning love and guidance – they turn out well.
Today, Gundersen goes into classrooms in the Verona Area School District to read his books to kids. He wears costumes crafted by his staff at the his dentist office including a pirate costume and in the future, a purple wig.
He hopes to write a third book about Norwegian bacteria trolls in the near future.
“(In the U.S.) you’re always brushing the ‘sugar bugs’ off of your teeth. In Norway, they talk about these tiny little ‘tooth trolls,’ Gundersen said.