English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.
English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.
English Teeth! HEROES' Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let's sing a song of praise to them -
Three Cheers for the Brown, Grey and Black.
Brits in (usually American) media are commonly stereotyped as being completely indifferent to the physical appearance of their teeth. Expect much joshing by the pens of non-Brits at this, portraying British teeth as being a horrific monstrosity.
The reasoning behind this trope has its roots largely in cultural differences
. In America having bad teeth is associated with being extremely poor - not being able to afford the dentist is like not being able to afford basic medical care. Thus there is an enormous cultural stigma to not having perfect teeth.
In Britain, on the other hand, for various reasons there is no such class stigma. Indeed the reverse seems to be true, having one's teeth straightened being seen as a form of vanity similar to (say) a balding man getting hair plugs. It may also be related to the fact that if you're on the NHS, good dental care has much less of an association with money.
Another big difference is the actual functions carried out by dentists on either side of the Atlantic - whereas American dentists (and British private dentists, for that matter) are only too happy to carry out cosmetic improvements for the right price, British NHS dentists only concern themselves with preventing the teeth from actually falling out or causing pain and very rarely perform any sort of cosmetic surgery. But braces are freely available to all under 16, so crooked teeth are rare to see. And it has been pointed out that dentistry is the only part of the socialised healthcare system where the British people are expected to pay the costs of at least some of the work - NHS dental charges are not exactly cheap and many dentists will seek to make a profit on them by doing the absolute minimum they can get away with. (This has been the topic of several investigative TV documentaries). British people therefore tend to resent having to pay anything at all, when all other parts of the NHS are practically free, and laugh at the idea of going private and actually paying
for American-style vanity treatments. Toothpastes on the American market also have a bleaching agent as standard, whereas those on the European market don't (it's separate from the antibacterial agent and others that actually keep teeth intact), and even those that are 'whitening' formulas often aren't as strong as American ones.
There is also one dimension with a strictly historical aspect: Britain was one of the first European countries to have access to large(r) quantities of sugar. Visitors in the time of The Virgin Queen
sometimes noted that British nobles had truly awful
teeth due to their love of sugar (and of course, this was prior to modern dental practice or dietary concerns). The lower classes couldn't afford it at the time, and indeed their teeth were better off for it.
In fact, a 2009 study by the OECD
found the UK to have some of the industrialized world's better dental health (actually ahead of the United States by a fair margin). The BBC has a fairly accurate overview
of the situation and varying attitudes on both sides of the pond. It basically boils down to the British feeling that having teeth be a little crooked or off color just adds character, whereas flawless pearly whites can be a little too perfect, if not outright creepy
. And in a case of Reality Is Unrealistic
, there are plenty of Americans who agree.
It's possible that since the British create a lot more Period Dramas
than America (most of which take place before modern dentistry), the British feel that having row after row of Eternally Pearly-White Teeth
would border on Anachronism Stew
after a while.
For actors having a gleaming smile no matter what kind of character they are playing, see Eternally Pearly-White Teeth
. Compare with Asian Buck Teeth
- An ad for BBC America had an animated queen claiming that various British stereotypes aren't true (including the teeth one), but then having them happen in the background once she turns her head. "They say One's dentistry is diabolical, looks fine to me."
- The British adult comic Viz mercilessly turned the trope on its head in a one-off strip called Crystal's Big Chance. This was about an American girl who wanted to become a cheerleader, but was regarded as hideously ugly because one of her front teeth was just slightly out of line. She eventually got her happy ending and was hailed as beautiful at the end despite the enormous braces she now wore.
- The Austin Powers films pull a few jokes of this nature on the titular spy, who has atrocious teeth. This is in part to show how times have changed since the 1960's, when straight teeth weren't as highly prized, and also furthers the point that it's Austin's personality that makes him attractive, not his looks. He does some dental work before the first movie ends. But in the following movie, they revert to being horrible when Austin time travels.
- The two English pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean qualify. Apparently everyone else who spent months at a time on a ship in the Caribbean had access to a really good dentist. Of course, most of characters in the films are English so maybe it was just a part of those two pirates' character.
- Lampshaded and inverted in A Good Year when Max observes that Christie must be American because of her perfect teeth.
- Shanghai Knights: Owen Wilson's character flirts with a pretty young English damsel, only for her to smile and send him running from her moldy choppers.
- Richie Rich: Richie's English butler, Cadbury, has really sensitive teeth.
- Played with in Across The Universe, when Jude, a Brit, notes of the American Lucy, "My god — you have perfect teeth!"*, tells her that people back home have horrible teeth, and feigns not knowing what braces are.
- Seems to come up in The Count of Monte-Cristo. Despite rotting in prison for over a decade, Dantes/The Count has perfect, white teeth, but in his persona as English aristocrat Lord Wilmore, wears a fake jaw/teeth which are the opposite of this.
- In an Adrian Mole book, Adrian's Australian dentist comments on how bad British people's teeth are.
- Of course, this is the same Australian dentist who accidentally removes the wrong tooth later on.
- Torchwood lampshades this stereotype with Captain Jack Harkness saying, "You want scary? Compare teeth with a British guy."
- Chop in My Mad Fat Diary. The rest of the gang has normal teeth.
- A good example of the inverse British attitude is seen in Top Gear, in which Richard Hammond strenuously denies having had his teeth whitened (which is implied to be a decidedly Metrosexual thing to do).
- Then again, he's also poked fun quite a bit at Jeremy Clarkson's obviously yellowing teeth.
- John Oliver is the butt of these jokes in Community.
Professor Chang: Shut your gaping vortex of overlapping fangs!
- Stephen Fry and Craig Ferguson discussed this, with Stephen doubting Craig was even British because his teeth looked so good and Craig commenting that they were mostly his but that things had been done to them when he passed through immigration.
- Peter Capaldi (who was also speaking with Craig Ferguson) once referred to The Thick of It as "The West Wing with bad teeth and swearing."
- On 30 Rock, trying to lighten the tension on an awkward date, Liz jokes about this to a British man she met in the orthodontist's office. He's never heard the stereotype before and is offended. It's Liz Lemon, what do you expect?
- An old SNL episode had a "commercial" with Mike Myers playing the pitchman for "Hedley & Wyche, the British toothpaste." Each tube contains two teaspoons of pure cane sugar, for a smile that says, "Yum! That was good."
Chris Farley: And it tastes great on a cracker!
- On the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Santa Claus":
Narrator: Boys and girls from England...
Crow: Have rotten teeth!
- Bradley James (Arthur in Merlin) has crooked teeth. Note that this does not stop his status as an Mr. Fanservice.
- Comes up every so often in Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Both versions, thanks to the recurring American cast members in both. One example from Scenes From a Hat:
Chip Esten: British Dentistry.
- Arrested Development: Slightly different take as George Sr. describes the British as having bad breath. Played straight as referenced by a pub called "The Crooked Fang".
- The title character in Sherlock correctly identifies someone as American on the basis of his tan and his teeth (they are indeed flawless and spectacularly white).
- Life's Too Short: One of Johnny Depp's anti-Gervais jokes uses this as its punchline.
- Cracked did a list of severely incorrect stereotypes, with #3 being this trope. Which linked to us. Hi, Cracked!
- "The Stereotypes Song" mentions "the crookedass teeth of an English dude" as an example.
- Brit Kate Moss has crooked teeth despite being a supermodel.
- Keira Knightley is proud of having "teeth with character".
- Shane MacGowan's teeth are actually green.
- MacGowan, of course, is Irish.
- It was a custom in some areas in Scotland before modern dentistry to have the bride's teeth removed as a dowry.
- In some of the more remote areas (as with any part of the world) there can be pretty distinctive dental features.
- There was a small-scale outcry in the British press after US magazine New Republic released a front cover with a picture of Kate Middleton's teeth Photoshopped to look yellow and rotting, as a reference to the stereotype (the issue contained several articles about the political and economic future of Britain.) In real life, Kate's dentist claimed that her orthodontist performed "micro-rotations" on her teeth so they would be slightly out of line, as it was felt this looked more natural than a perfectly straight and gleaming smile.
- This trope is often a case of Truth in Television. While it is not true that all British people have horrendous teeth, it is true that people who are avid tea drinkers tend to have darker teeth that have been stained by the tea. There are many people who have stained teeth from drinking too much tea who are not British, but this trope is often applied to the British, because they are quite fond of their tea. In real life, this problem can easily be prevented by drinking one's tea through a straw.
- Finn from Adventure Time has rather wonky teeth (according to Word Of God, it's because "he bites trees and rocks and stuff"). This got lampshaded in the Mad parody, "Avenger Time", when Captain America gets redesigned to look like Finn:
Iron Man: Check out your teeth. What are we, in England?
- In eschewing vanity orthodontia, Brits are not alone. It's not common anywhere in Europe. But Americans tend to be aware of the difference only between Americans and Brits, and maybe Australians, because we don't get too many non-native English speakers on TV, but we see lots of British teeth up close.
- Orthodontia is becoming not just something for the middle and upper class. Now that it is so common to correct even very small irregularities, it's considered neglectful not to provide correction for lower class children who have more serious problems, and some dental insurance covers it, including state-provided insurance, when a dentist prescribes it, and then, some orthodontists do pro bono work, or schools of dentistry now provide orthodontia, which is a low-cost option for uninsured people.
- Christopher Hitchens mentions the teeth problem in his article "On the Limits of Self-Improvement" in Vanity Fair.
The fanglike teeth are what is sometimes called “British”: sturdy, if unevenly spaced, and have turned an alarming shade of yellow and brown, attributable perhaps to strong coffee as well as to nicotine, Pinot Noir, and other potations.
- Recently due to the cutbacks on the NHS's funding less orthodontistry is offered for free now even for the under 16s, so while it is still offered if there is something very wrong with your teeth more minor procedures even if they are for medical reasons cost, which means that this trope might become a little more relevant for future generations of British people.