In my defense I say that everybody thinks things that are ridiculous. At least I think that’s the case. Everybody has curiosity about other people, observations and questions.
When I was in England this summer (oh doesn’t that sound nice?) I noticed something. Something I had never heard about before. Something that apparently many other people have noticed for years. That something was that the English have bad teeth. Maybe bad is too strong of a word. What they seemed to have a lot of is uneven, crooked, yellow or gray or brown teeth and quite a lot of empty spaces where teeth used to live.
The people don’t seem unhappy as a group. Not stupid as a group, not unclean or backwards. They just have teeth that look nothing like what I see here in St. Paul. I can honestly say that I had no idea that this was a stereotype. Shows what I know.
You can’t just go up to one of your British comrades and ask why so many newscasters, archeologists or grocery store clerks are missing teeth. You just can’t. It made me terribly curious. So I went to look it up when I got home.
What I found out is that if you ask a question like, “Why do the British have such bad teeth?” you will have to wade through a thicket of people chastising and berating you for asking such a bigotted question. “You might as well ask why Americans are so fat!” I don’t have to ask that question, because I pretty much know the answer. I also know the premise of the question is true. Americans are fat because we eat too much crap and watch too much TV. Oh that and the corn syrup subsidies.
But the answer to the British Dental Situation (BDS) has escaped me as yet. I found pages and pages of people who wanted to attack the question, but only a few serious answers. Here is what I found out. I’m still looking for more data.
What I found out was mostly this: 1)Flouride is in almost all the drinking water in the US, not so in England. 2)In America your smile is a class marker, not yet so, but this seems to be changing. In this generation of kids in the US, braces are common for any middle-class kid with teeth that are out of plumb. A missing or chipped tooth in the US is almost always repaired or replaced. In England dental work is generally reserved for things that prevent you from eating or cause you great pain.
They think we’re kind of shallow in our insistence on straight, complete sets of white teeth. I guess I agree. Lately I’ve been thinking about getting braces. My teeth are moving around in my mouth of their own accord. But I eat OK. I’m solidly middle class, so I don’t care that much what people think I am. But a neighbor of mine commented on my wandering teeth last year and it unnerved me. “Have you always had that, sort of, snaggle-tooth, there on one side?”. Hell if I know. I think so….
I started looking around at people my age, people older, and people younger. People my age generally have teeth like mine, not ungodly crooked, but not perfectly straight (except this neighbor of course, whose teeth are unimpeachable). Middle class people younger than me have perfectly straight teeth that are impossibly white.
I get the straight, but the blue-white glow-in-the-dark teeth kind of creep me out. To be fair, the gray or yellow ones jump out at me, too, but they don’t strike me as wrong. I may straighten my teeth, but you won’t see me bleaching them.