Sunday, October 3, 2010

British Teeth Explained

*Now* I understand.  After resisting for the 2.5 years I've been here, I finally broke down & went to the dentist yesterday.  It's been a year since I saw my US dentist, and it's going to be a while before I see him again, so I decided to bite the bullet & go to the dentist here. I decided to book a checkup & cleaning appointment, and there's a dentist around the corner from the flat who is open on Saturdays.  What could be easier?

I was in and out of the office in 40 minutes-and 15 of that involved paperwork and reading a magazine while waiting.  The sum total of time I was with the dentist?  25 minutes.  In this 25 minutes, he checked my teeth, ran two x-rays-and reviewed them, and put a bit of composite seal on the back of a tooth that was looking a bit 'iffy.'  He said my teeth were clean enough with no tartar that warranted a cleaning (thank you Sonicare!), so off I went.  At first, while walking home, I was tickled that the appointment didn't take that long.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how indicative this appointment must be to the general attitude of the Brits to their teeth; case in point:  in September, Simon finally broke down & went to the dentist for the first time in 3 years!  I'm pretty sure the only reason he went was to get me off his back.  And, here I am worried that it's been a year.  hm.

I can't remember a time that I was in & out of a dentist's office in less than an hour-and I certainly can't remember a time while I was there for a checkup that a cleaning wasn't almost manditory.  But, with my dental professional's almost chill attitude about my teeth, now I understand why toothcare seems to be such a low priority for most Brits.  Yes, I realize I'm stereotyping a bit, and on some level, the flip-side of all of this is that perhaps we Americans are a bit *too* obsessed with our teeth, but as I personally plan to take my one and only set of adult teeth to the grave with me, I can't imagine being any other way.

Glad this mystery has finally been solved!


  1. My British dentist warned me before I moved to the USA that American dentists like to do lots of unnecessary work. My American dentists have mostly been very good and not tried to persuade me to get things 'done' to my teeth. I did have one that told me if I were still a teenager, he would recommend braces, and another who really wanted to put a cap on a tooth that is slightly discolored but quite sound.

    My dentist's visits usually take around an hour, but the majority of that time is spent with the hygienist who does the cleaning. I rarely, if ever spend more than 5 minutes with the dentist. I only once had an honest hygienist who said that I always have so little tartar build-up on my teeth that I really only need to go to the dentist once a year. Point in case - at one point recently I didn't go for 18 months and the cleaning took no longer than usual and when I asked the hygienist she said my teeth were no worse than usual! Clearly, it is to the dentist (and hygienist)'s advantage to recommend more frequent appointments. I do know that some people do need more frequent checkups, but if I don't, why should I waste my (and my insurance company's) money?

  2. I have to go every four months and I honestly think it's too often (so I deliberately spread it out a bit). True, my teeth weren't good, not because of poor care, but because of a saliva acidity that turns most of the food in my mouth to something sinister. I have spent thousands on my teeth in the 20 years I have been here and I'd love to know what was really needed. It's very hard to say no when you're not the expert.
    I was a little horrified recently when my brother in England had a tooth pulled. There's no way an American dentist would ever pull an adult tooth. It would be filed down to the nub, rebuilt etc, but never pulled.

  3. It is certainly a case of extremes isn't it? And also 'chicken and egg': because I spend more time & money on my teeth (as a result of being in the US), it makes me more inclined to take care of them-and thus spend more time & money on my teeth.

    Vicious cycle..

  4. I think in general in the US medical and dental care is often "overdone" and part of that is the fear of lawsuits. Fortunately my American dentist seems conservative and doesn't recommend things unless really necessary.

    I once broke my leg in Ghana, West Africa, nasty screw breaks of both lower leg bones as well as part of my ankle bone. The doctor said, well, in America they'd probably operate and put a metal pin in it. I asked what if we did not do that. He said Mother Nature would do a fine job, it would just take longer.

    Well, I let Mother Nature take care of it. Later, just to be sure, I had a check-up with an American orthopedic specialist, who was impressed by the excellent healing (as well as by the nastiness of the breaks).

    He had taken an Xray, and saw me for a total of 8 or 10 minutes. His fee for this one visit was more than all the care I'd had in Africa for the entire affair for 7 weeks.

    So it goes. But I had no surgery, thank the gods.

  5. I love this post and can relate to it.

    As a Brit living in the UK, my teeth became very unloved. I moved to Canada and was told by the dentist that I should consider braces - the orthodontist subsequently told me I should have my jaw broken, teeth moved/filed/tinkered with, braces worn for 3 years, etc., etc. Very Over The Top! Now I live in Australia and I finally have braces on (and I'm now 35!). I'll only wear them for a year and the discomfort is minimal but the dentist care is just about right - 1 hour in the chair, including a mandatory clean and check-up. My sister is a dental nurse in England and she sees making teeth wonderful asa purely cosmetic thing, as something not really necessary. Lovely teeth are definitely not a British thing!

    Love your blog by the way. Feel free to browse mine at about my journey from the UK to here.


  6. Brit teeth are beautiful! My girlfriend is from Glasgow and she has a perfect smile. I even met her whole family and they have equally good set of teeth. Last month, I went to an Easley dentist with my girlfriend. The dentist encouraged her to grab some photo shoots and VTRs. She added that she can even make it to Vogue Italia.

    One day, I'll send you her picture. She is really pretty!

  7. HELP! If you don't mind, I have a question for you. I live in Cleveland and we have a place called the West Side Market, located inside the city, where local farmers bring their products to sell. It's all individual stands with different vendors, I buy all my meat, dairy, bread, fruits and vegetables from there. There's also an import store there where I can buy Mediterranean food. Here's a link to it so you can see what I'm talking about:

    Can you tell me if there are places similar to this in London? I guess my point is that I'd like to be able to buy food that is fresh, doesn't have chemicals and preservatives in it and isn't shipped from God-knows-where like what you find in a "regular" grocery store. And I'm asking if you can tell me that's possible. Thank you!

  8. @Gennifer, there's tons of great farmers markets in town, it just depends on where you live & how far you're willing to travel. I personally am willing to go quite far for what you talk about, so every Sunday, I trek from one corner of London to the other and go to Borough Market. One of the best food markets. Ever. If you search my blog for Borough, you'll find a few articles on it.

    WRT Med food, tons of places. Mediteerranean food is very popular here-and the Med population is quite sizeable. No problem finding speciality shops in many parts of town, and many 'regular' grocery stores will stock a full isle of Med food-similar to the way many grocery stores in the US stock hispanic foods.

    Hope this helps!

  9. @Kristina,
    That was VERY helpful, thank you!
    I got some conflicting stories. When I first decided to start a move there I covered this issue with my sister and she told me that yes, places like the West Side Market did exist there, but my best friend's British boyfriend came to visit her here in Cleveland a few weeks ago and said no. Since I know he's from a smaller town (Derby) I thought I'd ask you to clarify. I read some of your past blogs about it and checked the website and that's exactly what I'm looking for. And I'd also be willing to travel to make those purchases. :) Again, thank you! I was a bit worried there for a minute, lol! :) G

  10. Suzie with a ZEE not a ZED ;) lolNovember 3, 2010 at 3:01 AM

    Just have to say I found this pretty funny. My British hubby is not keen on the dentist either & as of yet has refused to go. I shall keep on him like you did Simon. ;) I, however, have been scared to go to the dentist here. Not sure what to expect or what I will find. So thank you for this post...think I will make an appointment now. Cheers!

  11. Ha! My European husband managed to avoid the dentist for 12 years and I finally got him to go when we moved to London...only to have him return with a clean bill of teeth! Is it him or the British dentists?

  12. A study performed by OECD, an international economic organization, on the state of dental hygiene in developed countries has concluded that the British have the very best teeth in the entire world, with an average of just 0.6 of a tooth decaying per citizen.

    So why does this admittedly lame stereotype even exist? Well, because the idea of "good" teeth differs slightly between the UK and the U.S.--most Brits simply don't find slightly crooked or off-white teeth all that unappealing.

    Taken from: The 5 Most Statistically Full of Shit National Stereotypes |

    More reliable source:

  13. Hmm, maybe so. The so-called "stigma" between British and American teeth is so uncommon, in that light. Here in the US, it's not surprising that we take care of our teeth very seriously, so much that we always want to know what the dentist has to say. We also have our dental insurance to take care of us. Ah well, maybe you can get a clearer answer after visiting, say, three dentists there.

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