Dental Health in the UK vs the US: Three Differences

The stereotype of the the gap toothed Brit-think Monty Python and 70s era David Bowie-has existed happily alongside the stereotype of the blinding wall of pearly enamel that is assumed to exist within the mouth of every American for many a year now, and both seem to be taken as gospel. But where do these stereotypes even come from? And do they even represent the contemporary dental truth of most Americans and Brits?

It’s thought that Brits first got their reputation for wonky smiles during the time just after World War II, in the days just before the creation of the NHS in 1948. GIs from the States who were waiting to go home found themselves in the presence of many citizens who had had their teeth removed for convenience’s sake (a common practice back then). They went back home and shared their experiences-and decades later, the stereotype still stands.


Fast forward to today, and between 2000 and 2010 the UK dentistry market grew by a whopping 46%. But the way that dental health is viewed in the UK is still wildly different from how it is seen in the US. How, you ask? Let’s take a look.


One: A rite of passage. While British children do get braces, in the US the practice of spending a few years with your mouth full of metal is almost seen as just another part of coming of age. This means that while American children with merely a tooth or two out of sorts will be expected to have money spent on straightening them out, it remains much more rare for a child in the UK in the same situation to be put through the expensive process of teeth straightening if it isn’t truly needed for medial purposes.


Two: Popularity. While the UK boasts the ever popular NHS, braces are only covered for those under 18 if they are deemed “necessary”. Meanwhile in the USA, dental insurance is commonly offered separately from regular medical coverage, meaning dental care falls to the wayside in both countries for a large segment of the population. Even so, nearly 3 million people in the States wear braces, while that number is just 1 million inside the UK.


Three: Not bad, just irregular. It’s not that British teeth are bad, per se-it’s that they are unique! And the British revel in that uniqueness, seeing no need to change what doesn’t need fixing. In contrast, the need for a mouthful of unique teeth isn’t seen as such a good thing in the States, and uniformity is celebrated, to a certain extent. Just take a look at the most photographed citizens in either country-while the politicians, actors and musicians from both countries exceedingly have perfect pearly whites, it’s the Brits who put less pressure on their big name individuals to straighten up (and whiten) that smile.

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