Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Ask any American what comes to mind when they think of Brits, and many will say "bad teeth." They picture the British mouth as being like something from a movie adaptation of a Charles Dickens book. Ask a Brit what comes to mind when they think of Americans, and many will say "outrageously perfect teeth."

I believe that there is a lot of pressure put on Americans by the media to have perfectly straight white teeth. It seems that many more children in the US undergo orthodontic treatment (braces, etc.) than in Britain. In addition, teeth whitening, whether by specialists, or by using over-the-counter treatments such as whitening strips, has become extremely popular. When I think of teeth whitening, I recall the episode of TV show Friends where Ross had his teeth whitened, with luminous results.

Teeth are on my mind right now, as I was at my dentist this week, and I am scheduled for a couple more visits. I suffer from dental phobia. People experience dental fear for a variety of reasons. In my case, it was a bad experience with oral injections given by a dentist in my teens. After that, it took over twenty years, a broken tooth, and a lot of persuasion from my Wife-to-be, to get me to set foot in a dentist's office again. Even talking about teeth or dentists would make me feel anxious, and it still does, particularly when I think of injections in the mouth.

I was very lucky to find an extremely sympathetic dentist who listened when I explained my problem. He prescribed me diazepam (Valium) to take the night before my appointment, so I could relax and get some sleep, then an hour before my appointment. Once I moved to the US, I found a wonderful dentist who specializes in using intravenous sedation for disabled and extremely fearful patients. For me, in addition to the Valium, he only has to administer nitrous oxide (laughing gas), which I love. I have often joked that I would pay good money on a Friday night for the nitrous. When I first visited my dentist, it was in a teaching hospital, and he used to joke to observing students that there was nothing wrong with my teeth, I was just there for the laughing gas.

As you can probably imagine, with over twenty years between visits to the dentist, I have had a few problems with my teeth. However, things could have been worse. I did not take great care of my teeth as a child. For example, I often used to wet my toothbrush to make it look like I had brushed my teeth.

I do have some aesthetic tooth problems that I have no intention of correcting. I have a small chip on a tooth where a kid at school, without provocation, decided to punch me in the mouth. I have a tooth at the front that grew behind the others. I was once a promising young trumpet player, and it was decided that to do something with that tooth might adversely affect my playing. Although I no longer play trumpet, I decided not to do anything about it after an enlightened American dental hygienist said to me that she felt that having crooked teeth was like having a distinctive accent.

My dental philosophy these days goes something like this: Do take care of your teeth. Brush and floss them and visit the dentist for regular check ups. Many dentists are great with fearful patients, so don't let dental-phobia keep you away. However, unless you have serious problems, I believe it is best to go for the natural look. In addition, unless you literally want to light up the room, avoid teeth whitening.

Where do you stand regarding dentists and dental work? Please leave a comment and let us know.


powerpopreview said...

Enjoyed the blog post. Sometimes I think if you haven't lived in another country there's no way one can understand the distinct differences between countries. One point that you missed in this particular post is that there's a severe shortage of dentists in the UK and this has impacted dental care. Despite the fact that there is universal health care in the UK there are severe shortcomings.

Graham said...

Yes, I did completely miss that there was a shortage of dentists in the UK. Despite me paying quite close attention to the UK news, and talking with my family frequently, there are still things that get under the radar. Great point - thanks for bringing it up.

Leora said...

It's good you take care of your teeth now, even if as a child you "wet my toothbrush to make it look like I had brushed my teeth." I just ignored my teeth as a kid. Every since having root canal in my early twenties, I have been much more careful about my dental health.

In general, overall health and dental health have been showed to be linked. The less food that converts to sugar that you eat (like white flour products), the healthier your teeth will be.

And our boys' orthodontist assures us there are health reasons for paying for those braces. I hope he's right, because it's a lot of $!

Dental Fear Central said...

I came across your post via Google Alerts - it sounds like you've found a great dentist! I was wondering if you would mind adding a review of your dentist to our Dental Phobia forum - http://www.dentalfearcentral.org/forum/ ? That would be really great!!

Graham said...

Leora - I do take much better care of my teeth now. My four year old daughter is also great at taking care of her teeth. She can brush and floss pretty well herself (although we help to be thorough). My Wife has great teeth - we go for our checkups/cleaning together and while I invariably need work, they just tell her what great teeth she's got! My Wife and I are good/bad examples for my daughter to learn from!

I certainly don't want to suggest that all orthodontic work is unnecessary. But some people are obsessed with perfect teeth, in my opinion.

Folks, Leora has her own great blog, Here in HP about life in Highland Park, one of my neighboring towns.

Dental Fear Central - catchy name! I'll check out your site later. I do like my dentist a lot, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him for nervous patients.

Graham said...

I did just visit Dental Fear Central. What a wonderful site! Help, resources, and dentist recommendations for sufferers of Dental Fear worldwide. I've only spent a few minutes there, but I can tell that it is likely to be very useful.

Jannie Funster said...

Even David Bowie and John Cleese fell for the lure of PERFECT TEETH. Mr Cleese I could kind of see but Mr Bowie?? I loved him all quirky in the teeth.

Graham said...

Jannie - "Quirky in the Teeth" - I love it! And I quite agree about Bowie.

Lexie said...

Many people are like that in Greece too now days...you know, want the perfect teeth :D. Parents didn't use to be that interested in that when I was a kid but now things have changed quite much in this matter.

I've had 4 teeth out the last two months, basically for aesthetic reasons but keep in mind that when teeth aren't straight (in my case weren't AT ALL straight) they can cause other troubles too.I must have one more tooth out and I'll be fine. It's not like it's easy to wear braces in my age and it's rather expensive. So, having these teeth out was the only solution.

I'm not afraid of injections...and I need a LOT of them :D. I used to be a little bit afraid of dentists but this new one is very good and careful so I'm pleased. I don't think I would ever agree to take off 5 teeth if it wasn't of him!

But we need to remember...perfect isn't always beautiful or nice. It's like plastic surgery...some times the outcome isn't exactly nice and it can look somehow weird also :)

Graham said...

Good luck with your ongoing dental work, Lexie! It's making my mouth hurt just thinking about it!

Lexie said...

LOL! Thanks Graham, it's not as bad as it may sound :)

It was something I had to do. I've always wanted to do that but I was afraid. I'm really glad I've decided to do it eventually :)

Anonymous said...

There's actually no shortage of UK private dentists. It's just that whole swathes of the profession have opted out of providing the NHS contract. It is easy to get quality dental care in the UK provided you can pay for it, just like in the USA.
I so agree with you about tooth whitening, I cannot imagine wanting to put bleach on my teeth yuck. Orthodontistry is fine though. I needed it in the 1970s (free UK NHS) because I had too many overcrowded teeth.
Brit DFC Moderator (not currently in the UK but still an expert on it lol!)

Graham said...

"It is easy to get quality dental care in the UK provided you can pay for it, just like in the USA. "

That touched a raw nerve with me. I think everyone has a right to great healthcare, and that includes dental care - because that's often heavily linked to one's general health.

This is a subject I will certainly be writing about in this blog in the future.

Anonymous said...

Two years ago a 12-year-old child died from lack of dental care due to lack of insurance and the difficulty of finding Medicaid dentist and then losing Medicaid. An article in the Washington Post regarding this can be found at:


Goes to show the importance of dental care and the lack of access to it for the poor and lower middle class.

Graham said...

For those who are not aware, B., who just posted above, is my Wife, who finally persuaded me to face my fears and get myself to a dentist after 20 years.

She also works in healthcare, so sees several sides of that debate on a daily basis.

The story she referred to (Here's a clickable link) illustrates amply how dental care cannot be separated from the general healthcare discussion.

Deirdre said...

It's so good to hear that you found a symphathetic dentist! There are many people who have this phobia and probably don't even know it. Your story will help them!

ice said...

The important things is, we have to take good care of our teeth. And try to use Glisten White for the best results.

Graham said...

I'm doing my best not to censor - just be aware that "ice" appears to be a representative of Glisten White. Interestingly, it appears to be a British teeth whitening product. And by now, you know where I stand on teeth whitening!

Mouse said...

I remember this blog post, I remember nodding my head to it. Actually, I was talking to my dentist about the *American* standard of pearly whites. Apparently a lot of them are crowns. Which means filing down of own tooth to cover with a fake. Think I'll forgo that experience as long as possible and keep my own, individual and unique set thank you very much!

Graham said...

@Mouse - I completely agree with you. I would much rather see a unique set of teeth (as long as they're healthy), than uniform rows of pearly whites.