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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...