Eternally Pearly-White Teeth
"Boys, would you take a look-see at these pearly whites! Hell, I ain't seen teeth that straight that warn't store-bought."
Characters in nearly all media are portrayed as having pretty, white teeth, with nary a hint of any kind of tooth decay whatsoever. Even characters without any access to modern orthodontics and oral hygiene supplies will still have teeth that are just as straight and white as a modern person's.
This is one of many ways that works of fiction often bow to modern standards of beauty. Actors tend to take special care of their teeth to make sure that they look presentable, so many actors have sparkling white teeth by default. Because Beauty Equals Goodness
, we expect sympathetic characters to look attractive and wholesome. Yellow or rotten-looking teeth, by the same token, are often used as a Red Right Hand
, showing evidence of a rotten soul.
Interestingly, blindingly white teeth aren't considered ideal in all cultures around the world. Natural, healthy teeth are more of a pearly off-white. Artificial whitening procedures also tend to weaken the tooth enamel, making them less
The other side of this trope, however, is to commonly present people in the past as all having rotten, disgusting teeth due to their primitive oral hygiene. This is very much Truth in Television
— for some
time periods and regions, but not for always and everywhere. In reality
, the rate of dental caries was rather low in the oldest time periods; even though the people may have spent much less time cleaning their teeth, they suffered less from tooth decay than we would expect today because their diets didn't have nearly as much tooth-rotting sugar. The big turn for the worse, at least when talking about European cultures, happened during The High Middle Ages
. See the Other Wiki
for more details.
This trope is so common that it's simply easier to list aversions, subversions and egregious
See also British Teeth
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- Crest 3-D White Toothpaste shows a woman promising to introduce her friend to someone — in two weeks, after she's whitened her teeth. As she says the last bit, her friend's smile, which was exposing her incredibly white, perfect teeth, falters. At the end of the commercial after the treatment she smiles again, showing teeth that look identical to how they were before. Maybe the difference is apparent to some people, but one would think that if there were one place on television to see slightly less than perfect but not joke-level teeth, its in the "Before" section of a tooth-whitening ad..
- Occasionally averted in Usagi Yojimbo when the heroes meet high ranking officials. In the days of Feudal Japan, it was a mark of high class and fashion to dye one's teeth in a black color.
- 28 Weeks Later: The mother has been living in squalor for months. Her room is a dirty mess. She's a dirty mess. How nice that it looks like she's kept her teeth neatly brushed and flossed.
- 10,000 BC: Close-up shots made this glaringly obvious.
- Averted in Back to the Future Part III, where Marty's unusually clean teeth are one of the first things that people notice about him. Doc's teeth, however, are not commented on (Well, they've had more time to get used to him. Also, he grew up in an earlier generation of dentistry than Marty).
- Braveheart actually does a passable job of looking like 14th century Scotland, what with all the dirt and mud huts. Then Catherine McCormick flashes a smile full of brilliant white teeth.
- Averted with the Joker in The Dark Knight who has pretty gross looking yellow teeth. In fact, most versions of the Joker have fairly yellowish (if uncommonly straight) teeth, to contrast with his white clown makeup.
- Gangs of New York: Several reviewers noted that the main character has crooked teeth as a child, but perfectly straight teeth as an adult. Dental braces were invented about half a century after the film's setting.
- It's pretty distracting in House of 1000 Corpses and it's sequel The Devils Rejects with the Firefly family who are a bunch of psychotic cannibal rednecks despite this they have shiny white teeth.
- Averted in the 90's French comedy Les Visiteurs. Played glaringly straight in the American Cultural Adaptation / Spin-Off Just Visiting (Les Visiteurs en Amérique), which eventually flopped both in France and the US.
- Both played straight and averted in The Lord of the Rings — the Orcs get absolutely horrendous gnashers, as the makeup people point out that good teeth are a sign of 20'21st century living — but, as noted above in the picture of Boromir, all the good characters have perfect whites.
- Averted in Man of Steel. Kal-El's teeth are noticeably not perfectly straight, since how would any orthdontist straighten Teeth of Steel?
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Averted, if not outright inverted. The Pythons noted on the DVD audio commentary that real medieval English peasants probably had nicer teeth than those in the movie, due to the lack of refined sugar and other tooth-rotting foods in The Middle Ages.
- New Moon: The makeup artists for went a little nuts on Taylor Lautner's teeth, enough for a hilarious reaction from the boys:
"Whoa! You could land planes with those teeth! Ease up on the Crest strips, will ya?"
- Pirates of the Caribbean averts this not just with the regular background pirates (who are the sort of people you'd expect to have bad teeth), but also with Jack Sparrow. Played straight with Will Turner, though.. (Really, all the British characters should have lousy teeth: not because they're British, but because they're living in Jamaica — the sugar and citrus fruit capitol of the colonial world — and all tooth-cleaning methods will still be woefully inadequate.)
- Differently played with Jack, in fact — his dental work probably counts as Rule of Cool, as gold and silver false teeth are probably Newer Than They Think. False teeth were only just being created at the end of the century (initially out of human teeth or some kind of animal horn or tusk); and it would be generations before you could eat an apple with any of them!
- Actually they're loosely technologically possible — there was at least one French surgeon who fitted silver teeth — it's just very improbable that Jack would have had access to the services of such a man. Also, they do work far too well for eating (and staying in when he gets slapped, etc) — most dentures at the time were for cosmetic purposes only.
- Lampshaded in Rise of the Guardians, where the Tooth Fairy and her mini-fairies can't stop squealing over how nice Jack's teeth are, with Tooth frequently prying his mouth open to admire them (to his discomfort). Jack has been technically dead and on his own for 300 years and may or may not have brushed in that time, but Tooth implies that it may just be part of who he is:
Tooth: "Oh, they really do sparkle like freshly fallen snow!"
- Averted in Shanghai Knights: Owen Wilson's character smiles at a pretty girl, then recoils in horror when she smiles back and reveals a row of awful teeth.
- Averted in the French film Les Visiteurs as people from the Middles Ages actually have very dirty teeth. Played straight in its American remake, Just Visiting.
- Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit has perfectly white teeth. This is just one clue that he's not human.
- Caesar Flickerman, the host of The Hunger Games. Played for laughs as part of his larger than life TV-show host persona.
- Animorphs: An aversion in Megamorphs #3, where they hunt Visser Four throughout history — in most of the time periods they visit, the Visser's host's cleanliness (teeth included) makes him stand out.
- In Harry Turtledove's Case of the Toxic Spelldump, the main character noted that the foreman had his teeth unbelievably white, due to sympathy magic connecting its whiteness to the pure snow of the alps. Then he muses what would happen to the guy (and several celebrities) if a forest were to burn down and cover the snow with soot....
- Frankenstein: Frankenstein's Monster had "pearly white teeth", because Frankenstein deliberately built him out of attractive parts in hopes of creating as perfect a specimen as possible, but instead the overall effect is Uncanny Valley.
- Harry Potter:
- Peter Pan: Peter also had pearly white teeth as it is commented by someone in the book, and they were still his baby teeth too.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, after listening to a captured Lannister cousin address her son as "Your Grace," Catelyn Stark reflects that one thing to say for Jaime Lannister is that "they could never have forced that title out between his perfect teeth." It might only be perfect by medieval standards, however.
- Crannogmen are mocked for having green teeth from eating frogs and other things; however, when Bran first meets the Reed siblings, he notes that their teeth are white.
- One of Daenarys' military commanders (who she lusts after strongly) is noted as having at least one golden tooth in his charming smile. Whenever she is thinking sexy thoughts about him, his sexy golden tooth is usually prominent in her fantasizing. By today's standards, that tooth might make him seem thuggish or tacky, but she's a medieval teenager with a thing for bad boys so maybe it makes sense
- The Warlord Chronicles: Arthur and Merlin are the only ones with perfect teeth and this is commented on as unusual; Arthur because he actively takes care of them, Merlin just by happenstance, though he loves being smug about them.
Live Action TV
- Parodied in Friends, when Ross' teeth whitening treatment reacts to a blacklight.
- The John Adams miniseries tries to avert this by coloring and blacking out people's teeth, but it's inconsistent. When Abigail Adams is on her deathbed, it looks like she has had some late-life dental work done.
- On an episode of NCIS, McGee accidentally fell asleep with his teeth whitening tray in, leading to a humorous example of this when we, the audience, finally get to see them at the end of the episode.
- Top Gear: Teasing Richard Hammond about this is a Running Gag, however much he says "I have not had my teeth whitened!"
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Edward Kenway is a scruffy pirate top to bottom, but has picture perfect teeth.
- Civilization III: Inverted in the leader pics. Genghis Khan has hideously bad teeth — even in the modern era, when logically even the Mongols ought to have reasonable dental hygeine.
- Averted in Dragon Age: Origins — every single character in the game (including your own), be they a human, an elf, or a dwarf, has stained yellow-brown teeth. Although the game takes place in a fantasy universe, this is very appropriate considering it parallels medieval Europe. Played completely straight in the sequel. Everyone has perfect white teeth.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: An egregious example is in an early episode, when the kids are showing Numbuh Three what kind of teeth she should have, they are revealed to have hideous teeth due to poor dental care. And yet, in every other shot, they have perfect teeth. Recurring villain Stickybeard averts this trope with hideous teeth due to all the candy he eats.