For a long time now, Americans have mocked us Brits for our terrible teeth. They have sneered with their gleaming pearly whites while we have shamefully hidden our crooked yellow fangs. British dental hygiene has been the laughing stock of the Developed World for a long time: in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the goofy super-spy confessed: “All right, I get it, I have bad teeth – In Britain in the Sixties you could be a sex symbol and still have bad teeth!” While I’m not old enough to know whether this was actually true, it is clear that the buck-toothed Brit stereotype has stuck faster than chewing gum.
Our oral reputation decayed even further earlier this month when headlines blared: “Dental Care in England is ‘Third World.’” In an open letter written to The Daily Telegraph, 400 cheesed-off dentists said that dental care in the UK is “unfit for purpose” and has fallen to “Third World” levels. The letter was distinctly light on facts but they referred to a charity that operates in Africa, Asia and Central America, that has started to provide emergency dental care in West Yorkshire for those who unable to find a dentist on the NHS. The numbers of children with rotten teeth has also become a “national disgrace”, they say.
It sounds bad, but you American readers should wipe the smile of their face, because the situation may be even worse on your side of the pond. In a ‘world-first’ investigation published in the British Medical Journal in December 2015, a team of researchers compared the oral health of English and US citizens. Chewing through the over 20,000 adults’ data, the team concluded that Americans’ teeth really aren’t any better than ours. In fact, on average Americans have more missing teeth than the English do. Teeth whitening work is far more common Stateside, but the NHS means that more of us can get dental care without breaking the bank. Separate research has also found that dental health in British children has been steadily improving since the 1970s and today’s kids have fewer decayed or missing teeth than in most other countries, USA, Australia, Japan, and most of mainland Europe included.
It’s hard to argue with leading dentists who see a dental system that is crumbling through lack of staff and funding. They are the ones who care for the children whose teeth have decayed through too much sugar and not enough brushing. That said, the Austin Powers stereotype has grown very long in the tooth and it is time that our American friends admit that their oral hygiene really is no better than ours – even if they have to say it through gritted teeth.
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