A common joke in the US is that British people have bad teeth. In one Simpsons episode, for example, a dentist shows Lisa “The Big Book of British Smiles”, a book containing horrific pictures of Brits with large crooked teeth, including Prince Charles, Sherlock Holmes and Buckingham Palace guards. And in the Austin Powers films, Americans make fun of the titular character’s crooked, yellow teeth.
But do Brits really have such bad teeth? And where did the stereotype come from? In this post, we’ll be answering these questions and more.
Where did the idea of bad British teeth come from?
We think the stereotype comes from the fact that the British genuinely did use to have bad teeth. Standards of teeth used to be much worse in the past. In 1978 for example, about a third of people in the UK had no natural teeth. The figure nowadays is just 6% according to the British Dental Association, which shows how far dental standards have improved since then. Tooth decay was also more common in the past. For example, in 1973, around nine in ten children aged 12 had tooth decay, whereas that figure now is only around three in ten children. We still have room to improve but the health of our teeth has certainly improved over the last few decades.
So does that mean we no longer deserve the stereotype of bad teeth? Possibly. But it’s also true that Americans place a greater importance on the appearance of their teeth. For example, only 3% of people in the UK have had their teeth whitened, whereas this figure in the US is 14%. The fact that Americans seek elective dental treatments more often than Brits could explain why we still suffer from a stereotype of bad teeth.
So do Americans have better teeth than Brits?
Actually, it seems the teeth of Brits are actually healthier be than Americans’ teeth. According to the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average 12-year-old child in the UK has 0.7 missing or filled teeth. In comparison, the average 12-year-old American has 1.3 missing or filled teeth. The UK also fares better than other major countries, such as Australia where the average 12-year-old has 1.1 missing or decayed teeth.
The stereotype of the bad British smile could be set to change soon because more and more British people are seeking elective dental procedures. The number of adults correcting their misaligned teeth with braces is rising, for example. Another thing that is increasing is our spending on private dentistry. According to market research by Mintel, Brits now spend around £2 billion on private dental care every year. This is an increase of around 30% since 2010.
Mintel also found that about a third of adults in the UK are unhappy about their teeth. This could be because our society is becoming more appearance orientated, partly due to image-sharing websites like Instagram and Facebook. In the end, whether you choose elective treatments is up to you. The main thing that matters is that they’re healthy.