Lovable nerd and chocolate pudding connoisseur Dustin Henderson is the glue of the Stranger Things crew, inspiring them to stick together when the going gets tough and the tough gets Demogorgon. In real life 15-year-old Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, is inspiring people as one of the few people on television who has cleidocranial dysplasia. Matarazzo’s own diagnosis prompted the Stranger Things creators to write it in as a part of his character’s identity.
Matarazzo told The Daily Beast:
“It’s a very rare condition and not many people have it around the world. When they wrote it into the show, I [started] getting a lot of messages and emails from people who have the condition, saying that it really helps them come out of their shells a little bit. . .They say that because this was in the show and this is the first time they’ve heard of it outside of the doctor’s office, it made them feel really good and it inspired them.”
Cleidocranial dysplasia (CCD) primarily affects the development of bones and teeth, while the severity of symptoms vary. People who have the condition typically are born with underdeveloped or absent collarbones. In a July interview with the Canadian Press, Matarazzo’s costar Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler) said that Matarazzo was born without a collarbone, which affected the growth of his teeth. CCD can cause dental abnormalities like delayed loss of baby teeth, delayed appearance of adult teeth, and sometimes misalignment of the teeth and jaws.
In Stranger Things Season 1, this earns Dustin the uncreative nickname “Toothless” from school bullies, which he simply doesn’t have time for.
Matarazzo — who can also sing like an angel — had surgery that pulled his teeth down. In the Canadian Press interview, Wolfhard remarks, “Now Gaten has perfectly pearly whites on the top.”
Those pearls naturally become a running bit in Stranger Things 2 in which Dustin boasts about his new chompers while doing a growl of sorts. While it wasn’t necessarily effective for the character of Dustin, it only added to the delightfully nerdy charm of Gaten Matarazzo for viewers.
This article, originally published on August 23, 2016, has been updated.
You Might Also Like: “Stranger Things Cast Confirms True Story Roots in Montauk, NY”