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.
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.
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.