Do Western Europeans really have bad teeth?

I shared a meme touting universal healthcare in Europe, and a Conservative friend replied, ‘What causes their rotting teeth, I wonder? Ever notice that?’

Frankly, no I haven’t. But I do know that it’s a stereotype. So do they or don’t they, as a whole, have bad teeth?

ETA: Reputable cites appreciated.

Since this is GQ I’ll start with this cite from the British Medical Journal that claims that British teeth are at least as good as Americans’ since we have on average fewer missing teeth, though you’ll note that the findings within are actually more equivocal.

There’s plenty of opinion I’d like to add, but I’ll leave it there for FQ.

According to this website, in six countries of Europe people have better teeth than Americans:

Isn’t that stereotype specifically British? Watching Peter Jackson’s WWI doc, there was definitely a basis for it at one time.

Sort of like Brazilians and plastic surgery, teeth straightening, whitening, capping etc. are far more common in the US than Europe, I understand. For those who can pay, of course. So our teeth may not be any healthier but they are cosmetically superior.

2003 map, so a little outdated, but you can see it’s the Eastern Europeans with the moderately bad teeth; US+Canada and Western Europe are all “low”. UK, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, etc are “very low”, though.

Yes. However the meme I shared referenced Europe, and the respondent said ‘they’.

Thanks for the cites, Mijin and Wendell_Wagner.

UK has high sugar consumption and a low number of dentists per capita, but only second to Germany in terms of not having decayed teeth,

Doesn’t quite correlate with flouridated water usage. Both are, to an extent, affluence maps.

Talking to my dentist about getting a chipped tooth fixed, I said I didn’t want American teeth. He knew exactly what I meant. Maybe the OP’s question is based on the assumption that what they see in the US is ‘normal’ dentition, when its a particular and maybe slightly extreme focus on ultra-bright, ultra white, dense and toothy smiles.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect her idea is that ‘all’ Europeans have teeth like Austin Powers or Shane MacGowan (before he got them fixed).

Same in the UK- a guy I know had his teeth straightened and whitened (he’d previously had a noticeable gap between his front teeth), and everyone kept calling them ‘American teeth’. In a teasing, not complimentary way, I will add.

It’s seen as a bit silly and vain to worry much about teeth being truly straight or white here, but very crooked or deeply stained teeth aren’t common, except maybe for the elderly.

Yeah, I’m quite certain that Johnny_L.A’s Conservative friend is engaging in the confusion of “bad” (rotten) teeth with cosmetically natural (not-straightened & bleached) teeth. Good luck refuting them!

Ah American teeth. Is it not the case that in the US the work culture greatly favours the employer. People rely on employer provided health insurance schemes and, for favoured employees, a subsidised dental plan. So when two Americans meet and try to assess their social status, they look at their teeth, try to spot how much work they have had done. Gleaming rows of orthodontically straightened pearly white molars are a class indicator. In the UK you can get your teeth fixed and paid for by the NHS. But the treatments are restricted, you have to go private to get the most expensive work done.

Now Americans are famously impressed by certain kind of British accent. Sometimes they may feel a little on the back foot socially. So they play the ‘English have bad teeth card’ and make much of their superior investment.

It can lead to some interesting conversations regarding the custom of UK companies to provide a company car as part of the work contract. A company provided BMW raises an envious eyebrow. That and the 5 weeks of paid vacation and more if you are ‘management’.

If a Californian is involved teeth are just an opener and they may led slip about all of the various expensive cosmetic treatments they have had as if that were a good thing.

These cultural differences are interesting, but not to be taken too seriously.

If this was true in the past (and a lot of what was done was just fillings, or that didn’t work, extractions) - then it isn’t now. It’s increasingly hard to find a dentist who will do work on National Health terms.

My local practice has plenty.

OK I’m back now for the opinion part…

IME British teeth are much the same as most of the developed world, in that people will get cavities filled and generally fix unsightly teeth, but straightening and whitening are more fashion things that are gaining in popularity but are far from the norm. I think the reason the US associates this kind of dentition with the UK is just that we have had close cultural ties for a long time, including a lot of famous celebrities so we were just noticed first.

The study I cited earlier is probably correct about missing teeth, but I think it’s a potentially misleading example, as missing visible teeth can have significant negative consequences for someone’s career, love life and general well-being – therefore doing without missing front teeth is strongly correlated with people who cannot afford implants. And so basically comparing the ratio of people below the poverty line.

So really the situation is quite nuanced:

  1. Brits are less likely to have had orthodontic work, although teeth straightening among adults is trending increasingly popular.
  2. A lower proportion of impoverished families means fewer people in the UK with missing teeth than the US (though it’s a close call) and
  3. Dental services in the UK have been under a lot of pressure in recent years and it’s become very difficult to find NHS dentists; I suspect this will lead to more preventable teeth problems going untreated in the near future.

At the time of WWI, I’m pretty sure a lot of people in the USA also had terrible teeth.

As an American and a former Californian, I will offer the anecdote that I have never, in my entire life, heard anyone talk about their teeth, except to complain about having to having to get a root canal or something. I’m sure there is a class of American as shallow and vain as you imagine – it’s a big country – but I for one have never encountered this.

I do remember that the pediatric dentist urged me to get my daughter’s teeth straightened, but when neither he nor the orthodontist he sent us to could give me any good reason except that one of her teeth (not the fronts) was twisted to the side and there was some slim chance it might cause some vague problem later in life, I forwent it. Dentists, unlike most doctors, generally have to drum up their own business here in the world center of capitalism.

Well, SHE hasn’t noticed it, either, because it’s false. It’s not even a stereotype.

The fact that one of those people is a fictional character played by a Canadian wearing fake teeth says everything that needs to be said.

Same here. My guess is that what we’re seeing is mostly a difference of practices and expectations among entertainment celebrities and other public figures.

Yes, AFAICT it is taken for granted in Hollywood that playing anything but some eccentric “character” parts requires perfectly aligned and smoothly white teeth. British/European actors can have a lot more natural tooth variation without being perceived as “unsuitable” for filming.

But there could also be a factor of different baseline expectations. Many American parents just take it for granted that if their kid has even slightly misaligned teeth, they’re going to need (and get) braces. Contrary to filmstar-en’s scenario, it’s not that Americans are consciously obsessed with perfect teeth as a “class indicator”, it’s just that Americans have more unrealistic unconscious assumptions about how straight and white “normal” teeth are supposed to be.