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 = 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. In some Asian countries, teeth dyed in black was considered a beauty ideal note . Natural, healthy teeth are more of an off-white, light beige color. Artificial whitening procedures also tend to weaken the tooth enamel, making them less healthy.
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 decay 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 examples.
See also British Teeth.
- 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, it's 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- The Penguin in Batman Returns has narrow, sharpened teeth that are more like fangs, and they are a dingy dark yellow in color. In other media, the Penguin usually has white teeth - but they tend to be vaguely crooked or misaligned, in order to make him look sinister.
- 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 Devil's Rejects when the Firefly family, who are a bunch of psychotic cannibal rednecks, have shiny white teeth.
- Averted in Les Misérables (2012). Aaron Tveit, who played Enjolras, mentions getting makeup on his pearly whites so that they won't end up with an early 19th-century revolutionary leader with jarringly perfect teeth (though Victor Hugo specifically noted that Enjolras has 'exquisite teeth', so perhaps it wouldn't have been so out of place).
- 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 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 RiffTrax 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!
- Wallace in Shanghai Noon.
- Averted in the sequel 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.
- 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.
- Played for Laughs in Intolerable Cruelty: the first time we see George Clooney, he's talking on a cell phone in the back of a town car; his face is in shadow but his upper teeth stand out brightly.
- Actually a plot point in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka's teeth are perfect in spite of his career as the world's biggest chocolatier because he was raised under a strict dentist of a father who put some giant orthodontics on his teeth as a child. Even after he ran away, Willy's braces proved to give him perfect teeth as an adult, and his father identifies him at the end just because his teeth are too perfect to be natural (even if he never flossed after running away).
- Conan the Barbarian (1982): Conan, barbarian citizen of a pre-technological society, former gladiator, gets beaten up by Thulsa Doom's thugs, then crucified to a tree. When he sees his friends coming to save him, he laughs—showing his perfectly white, straight teeth.
- All of the Zombies in Paradise Rot have sparkling, artificial Pearly Whites, so much so that this becomes one of their nicknames. But what do you expect from people who have lived for hundreds of years and need to use them to crack skulls.
- 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, probably heightened by the jaundiced, yellow skin, is pure Uncanny Valley.
- Harry Potter:
- Averted where Severus Snape is described as having yellow teeth. Not that fanfic writers seem to have noticed...
- Sirius Black, ditto on both the yellow teeth and the fangirls.
- 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.
- 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." They 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.
- Daario Naharis, leader of the Second Sons, whom Daenerys 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 a medieval teenager with a thing for bad boys would be more likely to see it as attractively roguish.
- 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.
- James Clavell Lampshades the disgusting state of British Teeth in the nineteenth century in his novel of Hong Kong, Tai Pan. The fact the hero takes care of his teeth—something he learned from the Chinese—is seen as an aberration, of his "going native". Meanwhile his rival actually dies of bad teeth: an untreated abscess he is "toughening out" and disregarding turns into blood poisoning.
- The Hunger Games: Caesar Flickerman's grinning mug appears on in-universe toothpaste ads used to promote the film.
- In the Song of Songs from The Bible, the Beloved praises the Shulamite for her teeth, saying that they are like freshly-washed ewes, each having a twin, and none being barren among them — a compliment in an age before modern dentistry.
- Parodied in Friends, when Ross's teeth whitening treatment (which he said he left in way longer than he was supposed to, creating absurdly bright teeth) reacts to a blacklight.◊ Phoebe saw them and screamed "Demon!!!"
- 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.
- Once Upon a Time: all the characters from pre-modern Fairy Tale Land have perfect teeth. Even peasants living in established dire poverty such as shepherd David or town coward's wife Milah. That could be magic and fantasy, right? Except the only character with stained teeth is Rumplestiltskin, and he only gets them after he becomes magical and his powers start to corrupt him and change his body.
- Top Gear: Teasing Richard Hammond about this is a Running Gag, however much he says "I have not had my teeth whitened!"
- And The Grand Tour extends the gag from Hammond to Clarkson and May when one promo has them discuss how Amazon wants them to look "more American," and Clarkson immediately points to his and May's British Teeth as a dead giveaway to their nationality. After a makeover, their teeth are terrifyingly Eternally Pearly-White. Meanwhile, Hammond remains completely untouched.
- The Wire attempts to give Bubbles, the homeless junkie, a missing tooth by blacking out one of the actor's front teeth. The effect is frequently ruined, however, in close-up shots.
- Painfully averted in Salem. Mercy's friends are too young to have false teeth, and they instead have their natural teeth. Their natural, rotting, disgusting teeth.
- Breaking Bad: Jesse Pinkman supposedly does meth as well as cooking and dealing it, yet his teeth remain unrotted and gloriously-white.
- Frontier: Averted. Primarily for the European characters, it's clear that their teeth haven't profited from diets with added sugar at a time when dental hygiene wasn't really a thing of concern.
- When the monster heel Gene Snitsky underwent a makeover in 2006, he shaved off his hair, his beard and his eyebrows - and apparently stopped brushing his teeth, to the point that WWE Magazine jokingly dubbed the color of those teeth "Snitsky yellow."
- And then, at the other extreme, was "Dashing" Cody Rhodes, who had perfect, pearly-white teeth - until he got his face kicked in by Rey Mysterio.
- 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 (possibly due to the rather large amount of mods the previous game had specifically designed to play this trope straight).
- As Honest Trailers pointed out, the characters of Horizon Zero Dawn all look impressively well-groomed for the Future Primitive setting they inhabit. While the narrator is more fixated on their perfectly sculpted eyebrows, their teeth are just as noticeably improbably pearly white and straight.
- 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 and 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.
- The Fairly Oddparents: Chip Skylark is such a straight example of this trope that he has a song about it!
"My shiny teeth and me!"
- Adventure Time includes an aversion - Finn the Human has several teeth missing, a consequence of his rough n' tumble adventuring life.
- In Mixels, all the Mixels have perfect white sharp teeth... except for Chomly, who has a Gold Tooth from breaking one of his buck teeth, and by the Waka half of Vaka-Waka, who, due to being the stomach half of the duo, has horribly yellowed teeth.
- Inverted in some Asian countries, where the practice of blackening the teeth with dye, was considered not just a beauty ideal, but also a way to prevent tooth decay. In Japan, it was called "ohaguro", and were used by married women up until the Meiji period.