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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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So, anyway, here are my teeth, slightly out of focus (which some might think a mercy).


In their delicate yellowness (coffee not nicotine) and lack of uniformity they conform quite well to the American stereotype of English teeth. I haven't made a proper study of the matter, but I'd guess that in general the stereotype is correct, and that English people's teeth are a bit skewiff - certainly those of my generation and up. I can't say this bothers me greatly - or at all, in fact.

What puzzles me though is this. If Americans' teeth are generally straighter, it isn't because they grow that way naturally. No, it's because Americans go to orthodontists for cosmetic treatment. That's fine, of course, but what I find strange is the extent to which this particular form of cosmetic treatment has assumed the force of a cultural obligation in the USA. By contrast, while lots of people get nose jobs and face lifts and Botox, I haven't noticed a general open jeering at people (let alone nations) who don't (which isn't of course to say that some narrower social groups don't come under pressure to get those treatments too). When it comes to teeth, though, it seems there's a widespread sense that not to get one's teeth "fixed" is eccentric, risible, almost perverse.

Well, that's the way it looks to me from this side of the Atlantic, anyway, but I suspect I'm getting a very partial picture, given that so much of what I see is through the prism of the entertainment industry and is heavily skewed (far more than my teeth) in terms of race and class. Still, in so far as there's any truth to this picture, I wonder why the attitude to this particular form of cosmetic treatment differs from attitudes to the rest?

True enough that in my childhood, which temporally overlaps yours, teeth-fixing devices (which we call braces; what you call braces we call suspenders) were exceedingly common, to the extent that those who didn't have them, though they were many, were considered the exception, the way that in certain nerdish circles it's considered the exception not to wear eyeglasses.

I think one of my brothers had them for a while, to correct a misalignment, not for cosmetic reasons. But we didn't go in for fashionable things.

At least half the toothpaste you see on the shelves here is "whitening". I avoid the stuff. It scrapes the enamel off; that's what it does.

They were (perhaps still are) called braces here too. And in fact I did wear one for a year or so at the age of 12; my teeth were far too big for my mouth, so they took out five (the sweet sweet smell of gas) and used a brace to squidge up the rest. I suppose the procedure could be called cosmetic to an extent, but it also enabled me to be understood when I spoke, so not primarily.

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For the US usage I know, braces are for teeth, suspenders hold your trousers up, and garters are for your legs.

UK usage (or mine at least) has braces for teeth and trousers, suspenders for stockings and socks where these are held 'from above', as it were, and garter where they are held directly by an elasticated ligature.

That sounds a bit like the distinction we make between garters and garter belts...

I am a USA person with crooked teeth. I have never thought much about it. I suppose my parents could have gotten them straightened when I was little, but my bite is ok, and we just never got around to it.

But I have had dentists say amazing things to me. In recent years I had one dentist say that my smile was 'not aesthetically pleasing.' Another told me that for 45,000 $ (!!!) he could make me 10% better looking. I declined.

My son has had braces to correct his bite. My daughter has perfect teeth and did not need.

I do wonder sometime, how the dentist pictures my life being changed by me being 10% better looking...

I had braces and it did help (I had a pretty severe overbite) but they didn't straighten completely, because my mouth is too small for all the teeth. So I have crooked teeth AND braces, woohoo! ;) I also had oral surgery, because of an impacted tooth hiding out above the gumline. It looks kind of like a little fang now.

Mostly I wanted to say I know what you mean about the things dentists say. When the orthodontist gave up and took my braces off at 17 (by which point my teeth had already started moving back, even with the metal bits on them), and around the time I had the surgery at 15, in both cases someone said things like 'when you're older, you can have the surgery to straighten them'. And I remember thinking, I just went through surgery on my mouth and it sucked, why on earth would I want to do it again? My teeth are crooked, but so is my smile, and it's not like they HURT.

I stand by this. I did want to be an actress for a while, at which point I suppose I would have come up against needing to straighten them the rest of the way, but I can't say I've ever been that worried about it otherwise.

When it comes to teeth, though, it seems there's a widespread sense that not to get one's teeth "fixed" is eccentric, risible, almost perverse.

I didn't know many other kids with braces when I was growing up, actually; it made me conspicuous until I got to high school, when there were more. I had heavy orthodontics (retainers, headgear, traditional wire-and-bracket braces) from fifth until eleventh grade because I had a full set of adult teeth at age ten, all out of order and crammed into my jaw any old how, so it was either make room in my mouth for all of them or start extracting. I don't think my parents made the wrong choice. My wisdom teeth were a lost cause, but I have all the rest. My teeth grew slightly crooked with adulthood and I was fine with that. I liked the smile I had, scarred as it was. It's what has made this last year of dental horror so awful: I didn't want to change my face.

I didn't want to change my face

I've been following your ordeal, and wincing - it does indeed sound truly horrific.

I had braces as a kid, and I still have crooked, broken, yellowed teeth (I'm US). I had braces because my molars were too tightly packed in and couldn't grow in all the way, so they didn't meet, and my chewing was, I'm told, very weird. Honestly, the only people who have ever commented on my teeth's imperfections have been US dentists, many of whom seem obsessed with fixing my broken front tooth (even though "fixing" it would make it more sensitive, not less, and it causes me no trouble at all--except that I can't bite into ice cream etc.), and some of whom seem obsessed with whitening them, even though they're perfectly healthy and whitening them would be painful.

One of the reasons I really like my current dentist is that a question on the intake form was "Are you happy with the appearance of your teeth and smile?" I answered "yes," and my current dentist has not once suggested any cosmetic alterations. He confines himself to pointing out that I don't floss often enough, which is perfectly true and a completely legitimate concern...

Anyway, I've never known a non-dentist to even notice. I suspect the US obsession with straight teeth is perhaps more an entertainment industry creation than a reality.

Edited at 2015-03-29 01:41 am (UTC)

I like your dentist!

It's becoming clear that that (as I suspected) Hollywood is not truly reflective of the US nation's dental work. It's something of a relief - although (as I should probably have mentioned in the post) I've nothing at all against cosmetic procedures where people choose them. The only puzzle to me then is why wonky teeth are something for which the British are typically knocked in American humour (e.g. here amongst innumerable places).

I honestly don't know! I lived in London for a year and never noticed any difference at all in tooth quality. I suspect it's one of those bullshit stereotypes--like the French not bathing--that is just not reality-based.

I always had a gap between my top front teeth, but when I was actually a minor my parents never had anything done about this, nor did anyone (including my parents, dentists and others) particularly make me feel like this was a problem. However, once I was an adult, earning my own money and paying for my own medical procedures, my parents increasingly started to harp on about my teeth and how they weren't good enough and how potential employers would judge me, etc. etc. (also potential romantic partners, until I made it pretty clear that I wasn't actually interested in potential romantic partners). Possibly I should have just ignored them, since I didn't really agree with them, but since I also felt guilty about not living in the same country as them and being unwilling to get contact lenses (and wearing glasses instead of contact lenses is something that people even apart from my parents have criticized me for), I ended up getting braces as an adult as a kind of way to make up for moving halfway around the world. . . like, I totally conceptualized it not as something I was paying for for myself, since I didn't care, but as a present I was getting my parents.

I can't even imagine criticizing someone for wearing glasses! Or indeed for making any choice about something so obviously their-own-business-and-not-mine as their appearance - but I know it happens, and parents appear to have a special dispensation in this regard. It seems strange that it only kicked in once you were an adult, though!

Well, often it comes in the form of a backhanded compliment - like, I take off my glasses momentarily for some reason, and someone says, "Oh, you look so nice without your glasses," although it does sometimes then lead to the person in question adding on, "Why don't you wear contacts?" I often feel that a completely unjustifiable disgust for anything remotely involving eye trauma is hard to defend, though, so it is awkward.

I think in general my mother's anxieties about my ability to conform to expectations of feminine appearance got greater and greater the older I got. It isn't necessarily an area of great interest to her either, but I think she wasn't expecting that without any kind of training I would turn out to be even less interested than she was, so she began to feel guilty when, having failed to really discuss anything related with me when I was a child, I wound up as a teenager who more or less didn't care about my appearance at all. There was this awful period when I was in high school and wearing jeans and some kind of boring long-sleeved shirt to school every single day when, whenever I got home, my mother would ask me anxiously what my classmates had worn to school, and, every single day, I would inevitably have to confess that I had utterly forgotten to check, since it was a matter of so little interest to me that it was nearly impossible to remember that I should expect to be asked about it.

I nevertheless feel kind of irritated that the braces thing only kicked in after I was the one who would have to pay for it, though; even if it was making up for what my parents felt were their earlier failures, it still doesn't quite seem right.

If it's any comfort, I'm entirely with you. I don't wear glasses, but if I did/when I do, it will be glasses, not lenses. I can't stand even the thought of putting things in my eyes. My mother, father, and best friend all wear glasses, not contacts, and they all look lovely.

Thanks for the support!

Here and now in the UK, where I live: at least 50% of the toothpaste in the shops is labeled as "whitening". Most local dentistry places advertise the fee-rich services of tooth straightening or whitening.

Growing up in the US, my dentist said I would need braces if my overbite got worse - but since it never did, I never had them. I did have a handful of friends who had them, but I don't know on what grounds.

I also grew up in an area with fluoridated water, which very little of the UK has. I do wonder, without having ever looked for evidence, if a certain amount of bashing-other-countries'-teeth might come from the initial campaigns to introduce fluoridation.

Edited at 2015-03-29 03:12 pm (UTC)

Here and now in the UK, where I live: at least 50% of the toothpaste in the shops is labeled as "whitening".

Yes, this is a development of the last ten years or so, I think. My daughter's generation is a lot more orthodontically inclined than mine.

Yesterday, by the way, I was going round Boots and say a sign reading "Whitening Products": I was very relieved to find that it referred to teeth rather than skin - though I've seen the latter too, in my local Tesco (which has a large clientele from the Indian subcontinent).

Like my idol Alison of Bath, I am gat-toothed. Over my protests, my parents did take me to an orthodontist who had put braces on the teeth of a good three-quarters of my age-mates. After all the X-rays, he turned to my parents and said, "Will she want to enter beauty pageants? Be Miss America?" "Of course I won't," I answered for them. "Well in that case, no braces are necessary." I've never regretted that decision!

I think it's a Class Thing. Having straight white teeth implies your parents spent money on them.

(Whereas here, pre-NHS, too-perfect teeth meant you were poor and had had all of them pulled and a set of false ones because you couldn't afford the dentist; post-NHS, free tooth care for kids means everyone has functional teeth, nobody has "perfect" ones, and it's one of the few things that *isn't* a class marker!)

That's a very good point - I hadn't thought about it in class terms.