Do the British really have bad teeth?

This week I thought that I would write a few articles regarding stereotypes of what others around the world think of us British.  Some of them are well-founded and some of them are less so.

Today, I’d like to get my teeth into the often repeated mantra that people in Britain have really bad teeth.  It’s one that is mainly perpetrated by Hollywood movies and American TV shows.  Having treatments for extra white teeth is one of the first things we notice when British actors, models or musicians ply their trade in the USA.  Along with an almost impossible to believe, change in body type for both men and women.


Austin Powers

What Hollywood and some Americans think British teeth are like.


It’s true that having brown teeth doesn’t really bother us a great deal.  We’re more bothered about whether they work, not what they look like.  Even those with unquestionably good teeth have a tendency here to keep their teeth natural in appearance.  White but not artificially so, straight if possible but if nature mean the odd one is a bit crooked what does it matter?

It would be rather like everyone having nose surgery if their face isn’t perfectly symmetrical. It’s not perfect but then very few are and most of us would just stare if we saw someone with Day-Glo white teeth.

Recent reports by the World Health Organisation reveal that British teeth are actually better than France, Sweden or Spain and certainly no-one thinks of Swedish people as being toothless or disgusting.    In fact we are comparable to Germany and for all their stereotypical portrayals onscreen, having bad teeth is not one of them that I’ve ever seen.


And what of Hollywood itself or at least the USA.  Studies indicate that the average 12-year-old in Britain has half the level of tooth decay as their American brethren and British adults visit the dentists almost twice as frequently as American adults.  In fact out of 16 leading industrial nations, the USA ranked only 13 with Britain ranked 3rd.

So it seems this is one stereotype that isn’t borne out by the facts.  Just like other movie-stereotypes, we aren’t all clever.  We aren’t all super rich or super poor or indeed super evil.  It’s just that our ideas of what is ok is more natural and when it comes down to it, teeth are first and foremost functional and perhaps when we see someone on television or in a film, we’re more interested in what they are saying than how sparkling their teeth are.



How British see American teeth


What the research does indicate however is the large discrepancies between the rich and poor of not just Britain and America but most other industrial countries.  In Canada for example, those from poorer backgrounds suffer from 6 times the rate of tooth loss compared to their richer neighbours and similar stats appear for most other countries too.


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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13 Responses to Do the British really have bad teeth?

  1. Francis says:

    I am so scared of dentists I’d rather throw myself off beachy head than go to one. Result:I’ve got to see one of these sadists soon. Orwell was very good on british bad teeth and generally bad health. B.O. was a reputation for brits once. What I can’t stand is bad breath but I’ve encountered these evil komodo dragon like vapours more from continentals than from brits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love dentists every bit as much as you do, sadly. My main complaint is that of people who deliberately eat smelly food on public transport. Those nice people who have a neutral smelling cheese and ham sandwich I can do without, though I’d prefer if they ate i private. However anything fishy, kebab-like or worse really should be consumed at home or at least in the open air.


  2. MrJohnson says:

    I’ve always thought ‘bad teeth’ was defined as having crooked teeth. If that is the case then the statistics on which nation gets braces installed the least would probably be a more accurate way of determining bad teeth. I wish my mother slapped some braces on me 😦

    The only reference I remember of the British having bad teeth is from The Simpsons…”The big book of British smiles.” haha


  3. sarij says:

    I dated a British guy for two years and he constantly talked about his “bad teeth”. They weren’t as bad as he made them out to be; not as white as Americans, but nothing that was really noticeable. I wonder if living in America made him obsess over them?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pola says:

    It seems that far more procedures are done as standard during a U.S. dental check up when you have Insurance, than under the NHS. I think we have a checklist of ‘mandatory’ procedures and you need to be directly referred for some of them: otherwise we don’t have time to do them apparently ‘gratis’. Those American friends of mine who have generally lovely teeth suffered vanity-based UNNECESSARY orthodonture in adolescence. My sister had braces and a retainer due to a severe overbite, I had a slightly crowded bottom row, was offered braces FREE but declined. She envied me for being able to ‘smile with your teeth’ and I love that the first bite I take of every apple is a heart shape. Why would I rid myself of this daily joy? To look like everyone else AND Simon Cowell? ~ P ~

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I think you’re right about the dental procedures in the two countries and also about the procedures we would deem as being unnecessary. I guess here, almost no-one has an operation or medical treatment unless it is required, not just for superficial or appearance reasons. I too have an imperfect set of teeth but they are very good for doing what their purpose is… eating and people often say what a nice smile I have even though it is definitely not Hollywood like. I’m glad you declined to have your teeth artificially perfected. I decided on the same. My teeth are just like every other part of me and some are better than average whilst my flat feet and funny eye are less so. I think if I had an operation for one tiny thing, I would never stop and that seems to get lots of big stars in trouble one way or the other. I can’t think of anything more unappealing than Simon Cowell!


      • Pola says:

        I had flat feet as a child and got them corrected via moulds in my shoes to train my feet into an arch. I now consider that as necessary to mobility/a help. Otherwise it’s a slippery slope. Our tolerance for difference has been transmuted into an intolerance for imperfection. People often ask me if I whiten my teeth but I don’t, likewise with the smile. Everyone’s smile is attractive… and it’s contagious, why not spread that?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I do wear those arches too but that is to reduce pain and as part of a solution to an actual medical problem as opposed to teeth whitening as you say. I also get asked about if I have my teeth whitened, I don’t I just like smiling a lot, brush 2 or 3 times a day and shun coffee and caffeine drinks which are well known for staining teeth! Thanks for commenting 🙂


          • Pola says:

            Yep! Hygiene! 🙂 I was young enough for them to intervene while my feet were still growing, but yeah, all these little details are what make a person: to value uniqueness is to search for the beautiful in others.


  5. Pingback: Are British really obsessed with weather | Stephen Liddell

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