Why Do British People Have Bad Teeth?
What do you first think of when we mention a movie Austin Powers or popular animated TV show The Simpsons? We believe that most of you have thought of the stereotype of bad British teeth. What does having bad teeth mean and why does that happen? There are multiple reasons. Having bad teeth can mean that we do not take proper or regular care of our oral hygiene, we neglect regular check-ups with the dentist, we eat food that is high in sugar, or we don't visit our dentist when a problem occurs. There are various reasons why one avoids visiting the dentist, it can be fear, we might think that the problem will pass on its own, maybe we haven't found the right dentist, or perhaps we are one of the people who don’t have medical insurance. All of these reasons can lead to bad teeth. In this text we will start from the hypothesis which is imposed by the media, we will begin by stating that British people have bad teeth and will try to either confirm or deny the hypothesis. Do British people have bad teeth or is this just a myth?
2. DO BRITISH PEOPLE REALLY HAVE BAD TEETH OR IS THIS JUST A MYTH?
It is stated in the literature that media are „the windows into the world." People believe what they see on television. This has always been the case. Today, when all information is available on the internet, literally one click of a mouse away, people are more „overwhelmed with information." The fast way of life doesn't leave much time to research what they have read enough (or at all). The information that is "served" in that way is believed to be right in most cases.
Having this in mind, we can ask you one question.
„Have you seen the smile on the leading actor's face in the movie Austin Powers? “
If you have, and we believe that most of you have, can we agree that his smile doesn't resemble the irresistible „Hollywood smile“ at all? But, now we have to ask an additional question „Can we conclude that British people generally have bad teeth based on one movie? “ Of course, movie actors are exposed to the public which makes conclusions, but to make a correct conclusion, the sample must be wider. Do you agree? That is why we need to observe the problem, that is, the stereotype, from different angles and then deny or confirm the hypothesis. Based on these thoughts, we have started our search for information.
Lance Knight, a dentist from Manchester, has compared the smiles of the Americans who have started the stereotype of the British teeth. According to Knight, aesthetic dentistry in the United States of America is based on the fact that all people want to look the same, that is, everyone wants to have perfect white teeth and smiles like the Kennedy family. Furthermore, Knight adds that the people from the United Kingdom aspire to the natural look of the teeth, so they go to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned or possibly get their teeth straightened. But all for the purpose of having natural looking teeth, and not having a „Hollywood“ smile. Although the most significant percentage of British people only want to improve their smile, and the smaller percentage wants the perfect white teeth as seen on influential television shows, private consumption of improving teeth in Great Britain has suddenly increased in 2015, as compared to 2010.
Even though they might be falling behind some countries, the improvement is visible with the British.
Some statistics point to the fact that, when it comes to oral health, not the appearance, the United Kingdom is better than the United States.
According to Mick Armstrong, the president of British Dental Association, there is a visible improvement, but he thinks that the parents, educators and the government hold an essential role in helping dentists to make further improvements in the oral health of the population.
When it comes to big nations, like the United Kingdom, we can say that the children can easily access the food which is high in sugar, as well as various soft drinks that are one of the leading causes of the bad condition of the teeth. Also, in the United Kingdom, one of the problems can be medical insurance.
When it comes to dentistry, medical insurance covers metal braces for children under 18, and if they want less visible braces, their parents have to pay. The question that has to be asked is:
„What if they don't have the money?“
Speaking of interesting facts and stereotypes, we can present one interesting research about what other countries wanted to know about the United Kingdom. Do you think that some of the surveyed countries wanted to know more about the stereotype, that is, why do British people have bad teeth? London based company for the bus tours The Original Tour has analysed the most popular Google terms to see what other countries wanted to know about the British. Of course, different countries, want to know different things. Since 2016 on The Original Tour bus tours the most common question has been why has The United Kingdom left the EU, but the questions are diverse. Thailand wanted to know why British food is so bad, France was wondering why British people drink so much, but the question about the stereotype wasn't omitted. Spain has asked this inevitable question: “Why do British people have bad teeth?“ The stereotype of British people having bad teeth prevails at least in one part of the world so when it comes to them, the question about bad teeth is inevitable.
An additional question has to be asked: „Will it always be like that?"
We can mention one comparison with the stereotype which is not connected to only one country, one nation, but the whole world. You might have guessed, we are talking about the stereotype of leanness that has not only led to various mental and physical diseases, but it also has lethal consequences. Even though lean models have been thought to be ideal, and „regular“ people have tried to reach them in that excessive slimness, that stereotype has been tried to be stopped and still is.
New rules are being introduced as well as new measures. The emphasis is on the „healthy" weight, overly skinny models lose jobs, but unfortunately, the number of people suffering from the disorder still exists. Should we blame only the media who have enforced that particular image of „the perfect" bodies, or is it something deeper? We will leave the judgment of that for some other studies and other topics.
One thing is clear, stereotype, no matter how hard we try to fight it, still exists.
Various studies show how much the myth of British people's bad teeth has interwoven into the culture of mankind. YouGov, international market research and data Analysis Company, based in Great Britain, on the occasion of the World Oral Health Day, has presented the results of the large global survey about oral health. Twelve nations participated in the study across five continents. Respondents had to say what they do that is good for their oral health, the key question being, do they follow the guidelines?
They were researching, what Foreign direct investment would call, the difference between „Knowing Mouth Smart" and „Living Mouth Smart." The results of the research were not entirely pleasant. The British know the risk but are lagging behind the other countries in making the right choices when it comes to taking care of their teeth and gums. Great Britain is in the third place when it comes to being aware of the steps which ensure excellent oral health. They are in the sixth place when it comes to taking action to protect oral health. Furthermore, 78% of the respondents from Great Britain have stated that it is necessary to ask your dentist for help when your oral health is bad, for example when your gums are bleeding, but the devastating fact is that only 41% will ask for help. Three out of four respondents have recognized the need for avoiding an excessive amount of sugar, but only the half of them avoid it. These are some statistics which could contribute to the authenticity of the myth we are talking about.
Furthermore, the results of the large global survey have shown that almost a third of the British think that it is essential to brush your teeth immediately after every main meal. However, it is recommended to wait for 30 minutes after the meal to avoid weakening the tooth enamel. Also, almost half of the respondents have said that they rinse their mouth with water after brushing, which is also not recommended because water can rinse off the fluoride which is applied while brushing the teeth. But, the survey has not only shown bad results that could confirm the stereotype about the British bad teeth. The results of this global survey have shown that the British take better care of their teeth than the Americans. Does that collide with the beautiful „Hollywood smile“ and the stereotype of British bad teeth?
The results have shown that only 40% of respondents from the United States of America avoid sugar, while in Great Britain 53% of respondents avoid sugar. The results of brushing teeth again support the British. The results say that 51% of respondents from the United States of America brush their teeth twice a day, compared to respondents from the Great Britain where 64% of respondents stated that they brush their teeth twice a day. When it comes to yearly check-ups with the dentist, only 49% of respondents from the United States of America do that, while in Great Britain 66% of respondents go to dentist check-ups every year.
According to this data, it seems that the public is aware of, and knows, the risk, but it also appears that being aware of the risk does not change their behaviour. It is necessary to put the knowledge about the risk into action and change the behaviour.
But, if we compare them with the Americans, we can say that this study shows that „Austin Powers" stereotype doesn't have a firm basis.
Again, it is up to you to make your judgment.
According to the letter sent to the journal The Daily Telegraph this year, British dentists think that the oral hygiene is a big problem in Great Britain. The letter states that the dentists pointing out that the oral health of the British people is on its way to becoming an international disgrace and they call it „the national health catastrophe." As it is stated in the letter, the root of the problem is not only oral hygiene of an individual, but also an NHS that has unreasonably high goals and unnecessary bureaucracy, and all that makes it difficult for the dentists to give the patients the care they need.
In Great Britain, health services are provided via an agency National Health Service (NHS), which uses national taxes to cover the costs of health care for everyone in the United Kingdom, regardless of their income. According to the journal The Guardian, some people do not receive the necessary care and treatment because the system has fought with high supply and demand. The Guardian has stated that in the last year in England hospital admissions received twice as many children with the problem of teeth deterioration than the children with a broken arm. Even though it is well known that children in Great Britain consume the food high in sugar, which does not contribute to health, according to the journal, the NHS has also failed. The statistics show that almost four out of five children in England from ages one to two did not have a dentist through NHS in the last year.
It is important to emphasise that the letter that the British dentists have sent to the journal The Daily Telegraph is not the only one. In the year 2016, they have also sent a letter in which they have compared an oral state of British to the one in developing countries.
Oral health care in Great Britain is so bad that they are asking international organisations for help.
The Dentaid charity which helps the developing countries with oral care has set up the clinics in Great Britain, which are going to take care of the oral health of families with low income, homeless people and immigrants. Polyclinics have helped numerous people, but they can't help everyone, that is why dentists insist on a more extensive solution for the dental problem of Great Britain.
According to the statistics from the year 2012, seven out of 10 people visited the dentist in Great Britain, while in America four out of 10 people did this. In this case, the question that must be asked is Do people visit the dentist because they take care of their oral health or do they visit the dentist because their dental state was horrible? Even visits to a dentist every six months are not necessarily a sign of good oral health because we do not know if those visits are related to smaller or larger oral problems.
Over the years, additional comparisons between the countries have been made. One of those comparisons is, for example, Australia which, in the year 2000, was on the 21st place out of 28 industrialised countries on the table which contained the data about teeth loss. Even though the data were collected in the year 1987, they were alarming enough to inform the policy of oral health state in the country.
Recent research is from the data collected in Australia in 2003 and 2004 when Australia was compared to Germany, Britain and the United States of America. Australia was somewhat better then, partially because of an older generation that has died, and has had teeth extracted when that wasn't an unusual practice. In this research, Great Britain was not so good, but one of the reasons is that the results for Australia were much more recent.
Because the oral health trends change significantly, generally speaking, to better, it is hard to say how much these statistical comparisons are accurate because the exact year when the data are collected makes a significant difference. However, no matter if we take into account the number of missing teeth, the number of deteriorated teeth or the numbers of visits to the dentist, the British do not have terrible teeth. But, this is not the reason why Great Britain, and all the other industrialized countries, should be concerned.
For oral health it is not essential what country you are at, but where exactly you are in that country.
In Canada, for example, the rate of teeth loss is six times higher in the families with lower income compared to families that are rich. While in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, data collected in 2015 show that dental problems highly depend on socioeconomic status.
For example, only 2% of three-year-olds in the wealthier part of South Gloucestershire have problems with teeth deterioration, compared to 34% of those living in Leicester. Reasons for regional differences include socioeconomic status, access to the dentist and if there is fluoride in the water.
When it comes to a stereotype that British people have bad teeth, we can say that they don't have to worry so much about that, if they are compared to Americans. They should worry more about why some children in the same country are predestined to have bad teeth.
Paul Doodes, a dentist from Britain, has lived in the United States of America for 15 years and has worked as a dentist for three years. That work experience in dentistry has enabled him to form his own opinion about teeth of British people that are, according to him, merely inexplicable. According to him, British often like to brag with their clothes, hair, house, neighbourhood, especially sewn suit, the shoes they wear and their partners, just like all the other people, including those in the United States of America. But, there is a difference in this boasting between the British population over thirty years of age, and that exception is, believe it or not, teeth.
Furthermore, Paul says that he was tired of listening and reading about how the British people have „healthy teeth" based on the conclusion that was made by unnoticeable observers. Dentist Doodes remarks that his own opinion is not based on any data, but on the observation of the „dual" citizen. Based on that observation, Paul has said that the patients in the United States of America are very different, more than the ones in the United Kingdom where everyone can see NHS dentists using, according to him, very useful NHS web page.
He further states that in the United States of America there are significant differences in the income and the wealth and that these differences are more prominent than in the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, according to his opinion, 50% of the American population does not visit their dentist regularly. Many of them have limited access.
Also, Doodes emphasises that many British people on the internet think that everyone in the United States of America has big and white teeth. As he states, the United States of America is mostly populated by Europeans, that is why the „gene pool" is very similar. According to Doodes, none of the dentistry books he has read in the last ten years has stated that the population of the United States of America has bigger teeth. Their teeth might be whiter because teeth whitening treatment is very popular in the United States of America. Also, people smoke less in the United States of America, especially the educated people (people who visit the dentist).
Except for the habit of smoking cigarettes, people in the United States of America drink less tea than British people, and it is well known that tea leaves big stains on the teeth.
Ultimately, Paul states that his British parents are his patients. He says that his parents have visited their dentist every six months. In the meantime, he has found four cavities on his mother's teeth, and she has also had a tooth crown above dead tooth which was cracked and infected. Paul has repaired the problem, but before the treatment, he had sent his mother to her dentist in the United Kingdom with the remark about four undiagnosed issues. After the consultations with her British dentist, she was told that American dentists tend to over treat their patients.
In conclusion, if poor citizens who don't have access to treatments are not taken into account, people from the United States of America have healthier teeth. Also, they are missing a less amount of teeth, and their teeth are whiter compared to the patients from the United Kingdom. According to Doodes, it seems that younger British people have taken over the American attitude, because every time he comes back to the United Kingdom, he notices the change - teeth of younger British people look better. 21
When asked a question „Why does the media always portray the British having bad teeth?", dentist John Fenn has answered:
„Why does the media do anything, to stir the pot for fun and profit."
As the mentioned dentist states, the British are not obsessed with a perfectly white smile as the Americans, but today they have really good teeth. Furthermore, he says that when the NHS was established, they have decided to repair every tooth and start a preventive program even though that process should be reversed. In a lot of aspects, the British have caught up with the United States of America when it comes to treatments that are available to everyone, and not just the ones who are well of. Despite the lack of preventive measures, it seems that they are doing well.
3. SHORT HISTORY OF BRITISH DENTAL HABITS
Do British people have bad teeth? We have explored different facts gained through various studies, we have examined the opinions of multiple dentists with extensive experience, and we have gone through the views of British people themselves. But, what does history have to say about all that? Rather, what was the history of the British smile like?
They say that the history is life's teacher and looking back, we can learn a lot, but also see how far the world of oral hygiene, and dentistry, has come.
Looking at today’s habits of British people, we can say that their morning routine today is as meticulous as every other population's. The reason might be that they want to earn as much as people in America earn?
If we look back, we can reveal the truth about „infamous" British teeth. The Telegraph states, the stereotype about British teeth didn't always exist, but the British have accepted it. We can say that this is astonishing because oral health care is today known as an American invention, but the British person was the first one who upgraded dental drill and mechanized it. Before that dental drills have existed since prehistory.
Except for the improvement of the technology, looking back, there has been an improvement in the things necessary for maintaining oral hygiene. We are primarily talking about toothbrushes and the progress associated with them. Even though the improvement of extraordinary proportions has been made (if we know that people used to clean their teeth using twigs), people still don't brush their teeth completely correctly.
According to the dentistry and periodontology expert, Doctor Nik Pandya, it is necessary to learn how to correctly brush teeth in the early stage of education because this later turns into a problem that is transmitted to the adult age. With the right knowledge, there would be far fewer gum diseases.
If today you ask an American what a British smile looks like, they will use a word „yellow." We can say that the teeth whitening treatments are still stigmatised in Great Britain, but British are gradually taking oral vanity in their own hands.
Nowadays a younger population longs for so-called „Hollywood“ smile, which is flawlessly white and impossibly straight.
Doctor Panyda states that the British have traditionally loved the natural look, but now the improvement is visible. According to him, British routines are not as good as the Americans’ and education about oral hygiene in Britain does not start as early, but people are more and more aware of the look of their teeth. He suggests that the nation should go back to their basis, which means that it is necessary to perfect a morning routine, brush teeth correctly, use mouthwash to fight the bacteria and use floss as a mean to improve your smile.
The stereotype about British bad teeth might find its base in the history. According to the data of the British Dental Association, 6% of adult British people don't have their natural teeth, while in 1978 this percentage was considerably higher. 37% of adult British people from Wales didn't have their natural teeth. An interesting fact is that Americans will not trust their business with people who have bad teeth because they think that if you can't take care of your teeth, why they should trust you with the business possibly worth millions of dollars. Can we agree with Americans? Can someone with bad teeth do their job poorly? Can we agree that taking care of your oral health does take part in the essential care and tells a lot about a person? Can we agree that our saying “that the smile opens every door” is, in fact, right? Now imagine that this smile is beautiful! Think about it and answer it for yourself.
4. HOW ARE THINGS TODAY?
In The Telegraph we have come across a shocking headline. This is the full headline: „UK 'oral health crisis': 170 youngsters a day have teeth extracted as sugar blamed for an epidemic."
New data about the expenses of the NHS show that there have been 42 911 medical procedures that involved multiple teeth extractions in 18-year-old patients, and those below 18. In 2016 and 2017 that cost over 36 million pounds, which shows inflation by almost a fifth (17%) in the number of extractions that young people had in the last four years. In fact, in 2012 and 2013 the amount of the procedures was 36 833. Teeth extraction in the hospital is done when the procedure requires an anaesthetic, and a dentist can't provide it. According to the accessible data NHS has spent 165 million pounds on those treatments since 2012.
According to the president of the Council, the crisis of oral health is caused by over consummation of sugar among young people.
British Dental Association has blamed the Government's indifference to this problem. President Mick Armstrong said that the statistics are a disgrace for the Health ministers, who weren't able to face the complete prevention of the disease.
As he states, teeth deterioration is the number one reason why people are admitted to hospitals. He also noted that the communities around England are left with no resources or leadership.
Local Government Association's (LGA) has analysed the data stated above. To explain, in most of the procedures that are conducted over the week, it means that about 170 such operations were being done every work day in the last year. LGA, representing 370 councils in England and Wales, has tried to fight against teeth decay by calling for a reduction of unhealthy food and soft drinks. LGA thinks that limiting the amount of sugar in soft drinks as well as putting labels of teaspoons on food to emphasise the amount of sugar in it, would reduce the sugar intake. Furthermore, what is essential is that the local government is responsible when it comes to helping to protect public health.
Izzi Seccombe, president of the LGA local community welfare committee, has stated that the numbers have risen and are showing an oral health crisis, and indicate that harmfulness of sugar has to be pointed out.
She thinks that 170 operations per day are alarming and she adds that there is also current pressure on the NHS. 35 According to Seccombe, this trend shows that there is an urgent need for establishing measures to stop sugar addiction which causes decay of children's teeth.
According to this, we can look at how much sugar one soft drink holds.
Professor Russel Viner, the officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has stated that teeth extraction is very serious. Apart from the surgery itself, which needs to be observed from the point of aesthetics, there are other pertinent risks, such as anxiety for both children and their families. He emphasises that many of these operations are caused by the consummation of food and drinks containing sugar. They can be prevented because, amongst everything else, they are the unnecessary financial burden for NHS.
NHS spokeswoman has also reported on this topic, stating that oral care is free for children and that teeth bleeding can be stopped, but that consummation of food high in sugar leads to unfortunate extraction epidemic.
Furthermore, NHS England is working with dental experts, local government and health care providers. They have developed Starting Well campaign focused on the communities with significant needs, to help children to the age of 5 to go to check-ups with the dentist to improve their oral health.
5. WHAT BRITISH PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE STEREOTYPE
When it comes to the stereotype of British people's bad teeth, the journal The Guardian has collected statements from British people about this cultural phenomenon.
Grace, Portland, USA
We're not interested in spending a fortune on purely cosmetic (and painful) orthodontics for our teenage children leaving them with a mouthful of fake-looking identical tombstones. Yuk. Oh, and then we're not interested in filling our mouths with damaging chemical bleaches to give us an absurd Baywatch white dental dazzle. An excellent dentist told me once that our teeth are meant to be ivory coloured, not white. Was he wrong? Get over it, look natural. You'll be making your women pump their breasts up with silicone next! And slicing their faces up with surgical scalpels. Why?
Philip Draycott, Leicester, UK
It is not lack of dental hygiene the English (not to mention the rest of the population of their island) have to thank for their peculiar dentition, but the extortionate prices most of them have to pay to have any dental work done. The matter ought to be dealt with like any other medical ailment - i.e., by the National Health Service - but for some reason, it is not.
John Bennett, Glasgow Scotland
Thousands of Americans and Canadians go to Mexico every year for their dental care. The reason is simple enough: cost. A tenth of the price if the stories are to be believed. Given that 23 million people are without basic health coverage in the USA, (a criminally insane state of affairs in any so-called civilized country) I'm sure, if the questioner looked hard enough, She'd find plenty of poor Americans with bad teeth. It pays to get up off the couch, away from the idiot box and mingle a little with reality; otherwise everything is so...how do I put this? Everything is so unreal, so boringly middle-class, so Hollywood...so unintelligent. Just like the question/rant itself.
Daniel Lillford, Nova Scotia, Canada
I'm quite happy being the way nature designed me as long as I'm healthy and all my bits work. So I have (by some standards) slightly crooked teeth, a large mole on my forehead, and white hair (and indeed all the body hair evolution saw fit to provide, for whatever reason). I'm happy with that. I've got better uses for my money and angst than fear of frightening the horses.
Richard Miller, Addlestone, UK
This obsession with cosmetics is indicative of the superficiality of the modern mind. It'd be nice to have better teeth but why have Americans suddenly leaped on that particular thing to criticise Brits? I think it's to do with subconscious angst generating an obsession with appearance, caused by perceived inner vacuity. You can see this graphically in American TV programmes like NCIS and CSI which are all style with no depth of character and only hysterical emotions. They are totally unreal. Anyway, fraternal greetings to the Unreal States of America
David Jordan, Cookley, UK
If you wish to comment that "us Brits" have the bad teeth and wish not to look upon your own country, that's fine. But you should look out your window and see how many of your "healthy teethed" Americans are obese...
Aidan Halliwell, Warrington, Cheshire, UK
I am an American and have a thing for crooked teeth. 🙂 And I know I am not alone! English people's teeth are unique and interesting, and it really can give their whole face a unique and interesting look, like the actress Therese Bradley, or David Bowie before he got them "fixed." Now that the kids in the UK get free braces, sadly we will not see this awesome phenomenon anymore!
Rebecca, York, Pennsylvania USA
After going through several sources and seeing thoughts of several dentists, and „regular“ people, and after examining the facts, that is, the results of the studies, we can say that the stereotype of British bad teeth is still present. Whether it is justified, we can say that this has changed and that it depends on each person’s opinion. You can conclude yourself.