Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The gnashing of teeth

Littleboy 1 is on a field trip to the dentist. Yes; the dentist. When the preschool teacher informed me of this visit, I made the heinous mistake of laughing. I don't really know why, I just imagined this minibus of kids turning up at the dentist thinking they were going somewhere fun and ....oh.


But the teacher smiled thinly, clearly thinking. "Here goes the crazy English Mommy again...". I had forgotten, you see, that dentistry is sacrosanct in America. It is not, as it is often in London, regarded somewhere a bit grim you are forced to endure every six months or so, your main worry being whether they still provide NHS treatment and whether the hygienist will be nice to you or berate you for not flossing enough.

Here, the average child will end up spending many, many hours in the dentist's chair, as orthodontic treatment is as much a rite of passage as taking exams or learning to swim. A favourite discussion of mothers I've met here is which dentist you go to; people will travel for miles to go to one they like, and they are rightly suspicious of dentists who are trying to con them into unnecessary treatment, considering the amount of money involved.

Dentists must certainly make a fortune. The boys' dental surgery is more like a home entertainment centre, with TV screens on the ceiling and every room decorated in a different theme. Insurance covers some of it, but certainly not all; Americans spend a LOT on their teeth.

And you can tell. I have noticed, for instance, watching the Winter Olympics, that you can always tell which athletes are American, before it pops up on the screen, by their dazzling, perfect, straight, white teeth. Take Lindsey Vonn, the downhill skier. I'm willing to bet she's had a few mouth smashes over the years; yet she has the most perfect set of gnashers. European athletes in contrast are immediately recognisable by their crooked smiles.

It is well known that Americans think British teeth are awful. My new dentist has already informed me that I have the 'classic British overbite' before going on to suggest adult braces. Are you joking? I nearly spluttered. My UK dentist (a Scandinavian who coincidentally used to work in New York) has always said my teeth are fine. I hated the plate I wore for about a year as a teenager and even with these new invisible braces there is no WAY I am going back to orthodontic treatment in my mid thirties. I humoured him by agreeing to ask his receptionist to find out how much it would cost me and whether our insurance would cover it (it didn't even begin to, so I had the excuse of saying I couldn't afford it). The receptionist flashed me a dazzling smile; "Oh, I had those braces, and they were JUST GREAT."

But I also felt rather indignant; I may not smile like Julia Roberts but I am not, as far as I am concerned, Ugly Betty. Meanwhile The Doctor has been told that his teeth are Beyond Help but it doesn't matter so much because he's a married man. Which is quite funny, but also pretty insulting......

I guess we Brits just have a different attitude, although I know this is changing; cosmetic dentistry is becoming much more popular in the UK. Maybe one day we will all smile like Americans?

So on reflection it's not surprising that an integral part of preschool education is a field trip to the dentist. And I can see the rationale - to educate them and make them think it's something fun, so they won't dread dental visits.

Anyway, judging by both my sons' thumbsucking habits, there will be plenty of those to come.....

20 comments:

Nota Bene said...

Ah yes, American teeth - they all look as if they're false. Some things can look just too shiny and bright. I have to admit though that I had some cosmetic stuff done and lived with a brace for months. I'd never do it again

Mwa said...

I do wonder about American teeth. The sheer whiteness! I have one tooth which sticks out a little (nothing you see normally, just if you pay close attention), and my dentist thought "it gave character." I think that's the problem with American teeth - they make everyone the same.

I have a thumbsucker over here, too, so I think we'll be doing the braces dance as well. But not to some ridiculous American standard.

Expat mum said...

I have spent thousands on my teeth in the 20 years I've been here. Unfortunately none of it was cosmetic, and none covered by insurance since it was classed as a pre-existing condition. For anyone with kids and no dental insurance, the going rate for braces (which is usually a 18-24 month affair) is about $5,000. Mind you, a friend in the UK has a child about to take on the mantle and it's the same in pounds sterling.

Home Office Mum said...

I thought the exact same thing watching the winter olympics. I'd love to have shiny white American teeth, but given the rest of me is in a state of disrepair, there seems little point having pearly whites - they'd simply illuminate the wrinkles on my face

Calif Lorna said...

I've been noticing all the perfect teeth at the Olympics too - it must be so much hard work (and costly!)

We seem to be living at the dentist at the moment. They immediately put my oldest son in braces when we arrived so that he would have a 'manly chin!' Yes, the dentist actually said that! But my son did have a big gap in his front teeth which needed fixing. Now he'll have no gap and a chin like a real man!

I hope they enjoyed their field trip.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

It was the first thing that the dentist said to my mother when we lived in the States. Mum said no way and I don't think we've noticed the difference. My brother and I were 7 and 5 at the time. None of my British friends even started thinking about orthodontists until they at least had a full set of big teeth.

nappy valley girl said...

NB - the constant jaw ache would put me off, and the yuckness of having to take it out when you eat... shudder.

Mwa - I have already been told that LB2 will need major dental work when he's older. Sigh....

Expat Mum - I was quoted $6000 for the adult braces, of which insurance would only cover about $600.....I thought kids' under 16 were entitled to free orthodontics on the NHS? Maybe that has changed....

HomeOfficeMum - I'd do it if I was an actress or model, I guess, but if I had the cash to spare I'd rather get a facial and really expensive haircut every few months....

CalifLorna - the field trip seemed to go well, although all LB1 reported was that they 'watched a giraffe film'. Presumably on the ceiling TVs....

Brit in Bosnia - 7 and 5 seems far too young. I don't know the science behind it - maybe it's better to start earlier? but many of my friends had braces as teens and their teeth are now fine.

Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

I can't believe that dentist tried to convince you to get braces! Well I can, but still - the cheek, as it sounds like your teeth are just fine.

Growing up I was one of the few people I know that didn't wear braces...I was somehow blessed with relatively straight teeth but having said that, they aren't perfect and a dentist did try to tell my mom to get me some type of retainer mouth thing but I didn't get it in the end.

I have a friend who has just qualified as an ortho...he will be a busy man!

Metropolitan Mum said...

Ahem. I am not sure you want to hear this, but not only Americans think the Brits have awful teeth.

Iota said...

I know lots of adults here with braces. Haven't they got better things to spend their money on?

My English dentist told me that some of the teeth-whitening methods used in America are illegal in England. I can't remember which ones. Doesn't sound too good, though.

My oldest had to have 2 fillings, and it took hours. Literally. I couldn't believe it. He was bruised and swollen for 2 weeks. It was at a paediatric dentist, where there was lots of literature about sedating children for fillings. I thought it was horrendous, actually (and changed dentist after that). I wasn't very impressed with the tv screens in the ceiling, really, as the practice prided itself on explaining and educating the kids. How can you do that if they have earphones on and are plugged into Spongebob? I much prefer the practice they're with now - not so overtly child-friendly, but I think they do a better job.

mothership said...

I think there is a big push on at US dentists right now to get you into the 'invisible' braces. I have almost perfect teeth and my dentist tried to flog me some on the grounds that I could be her 'model for her sales portfolio' and could get a big discount because there was so little to correct (then what's the point?). Then she tried to get Husband by saying his lower teeth were slightly crooked which honestly neither of us had EVER noticed before.
On the field trip fron, I have to say I think there is a point there. Two just had his first trip to the dentist and she spent over 20 minutes with him first giving a cleaning and exam to 'mr toothy' who is a kangaroo with a false set of choppers - this so enchanted him that he decided to help her and eventually ended up in the chair himself (he had previously absolutely refused even to consider it). Now he SLAVISHLY ADORES 'Dr. Annie' and carries his toothbrush around with him asking if he can get the 'cavity bugs out' because she said so. Five is similarly brainwashed. However she did warn me that Five will probably need braces (I should have been a US orthodonist)

Heather said...

that is odd. i can't imagine ever being taken on a school trip to see the dentist. Horses for courses i guess. the American obsession with teeth perplexes me a little, but i guess your smile is an important part of your face...

Lynda said...

I went to high school in country NSW Australia. It used to be a bit of a joke that a lot of the lecturers at the uni were American and while they were here on their contracts they would get their children's teeth straightened and filled, their appendix and tonsils taken out (does anyone do that anymore??) and any health problems sorted out. They were desperate to get it all done before they went home because they couldn't afford it back there.
I have to say I have had both my boys' teeth straightened. The week after the youngest got his braces off he broke the front ones off in a kayaking accident. The orthodontist was as impressed as I was!

nappy valley girl said...

Tanya - I think they are just trying to push it with everyone really (see Mothership's comment below). Because they have these new invisible braces, they think people won't mind wearing them, so it's quite a hard sell on the part of the dentist...

Met Mum - I know we do have a reputation. Mind you, some of the worst teeth I've seen are on Europeans too!

Iota - I agree about plugging them into Spongebob. And I'm already worried that when we go home, they won't get that, and they'll really complain....

Mothership - yes, I think you are right. I could see that from the dentist's face when he said excitedly to his assistant that I was the 'perfect candidate' for these invisible braces. As with all medicine in America, there is a lot of pushing for unnecessary treatment. I think it's good for children to love their dentists, but, see above, I do wonder if they won't get too used to it all being fun and exciting, because in my experience the UK dentist is a little different...

Heather - I think it's because of their history or private dentistry - we have all grown up with the NHS which wouldn't do anything but the necessary whereas private dentists here will push for all sorts of treatment. I wonder if this will change in the UK now most dentistry is not free?

Lynda - I bet you were furious! I don't there is anything wrong per se with getting teeth straightened, but I do think they probably go too far in some cases here. (As for tonsils, according to my husband the medical thinking has changed and now doctors believe that you shouldn't just whip them out at the first sign of infection).

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

So WHY do American schools & festivals (eg Halloween & valentine's day) revolve round giving sweets (candy) it's obsessive, & the fizzy drinks etc. british schools have a muchhealthier attitude to what you nash on with yr Gnashers IMHO. I don't get it. Someone told me that many Americans have veneers which I think is when they file your own teeth down to stumps & cap them all, (horrific) which wd certainly explain why they a. look so pearly white & b. so regular. I mean braces can't achieve that can they??
An American girl in my English class here has bracse which are like something out of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (the film) I mean she has white elastic BETWEEN her upper & lower teeth. I find it most off putting when she answers questions & I work hard to look her in the eye & not gaze distractedly at her eleasticated teeth. Takes away somewhat from discssing the finer points of shakespeare though....
Confession here tho. I persuaded my husband to have adult dentistry as his teeth were quite crooked. He wore a brace at night & the a retainer fro 2 yrs in total. bles shim. when we were 1st married. Of course.....! I must admit it was fab , the results!

Melanie Oxley-Wilson said...

NVG. Great post. I've been away in getting married land and now in the middle of being pregnant land. I shall write a separate email as well as I need your advice on some things...

Yes the Brilliant & Perfect American Smile. It is a bit over the top with the whitening. Just looks so fake. However I do agree with braces if necessary and I've had them as an adult and very happy I did for a a whole bunch of reasons I won't go into here.

The one tip my ortho gave me is that it's not always wise to rush your kids into braces if they have teeth that are ok, e.g. a bit crooked with a mild overbite. Why? Well you go off and spend thousands to fix their lil' gnashers and what happens in their 20s? Those pesky wisdom teeth show up and spoil the party. Which is what happened to me.

I have to admit that I'm sometimes a bit horrified at the state of some English people's teeth. A bit of personality is great but so many times I've met someone with a great job (we're talking six figures) amazing wardrobe, flash car, etc. Then they smile and it's just awful. Rotting, stained teeth barely held in place by diseased riddled gums. It just doesn't add up. There must be a middle ground.

Meanwhile I'm sure LB1 & 2 will come home laden down with free toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste and a catchy tune that tells them how to brush their teeth and for how long. Good times.

nappy valley girl said...

PLIT - it's a good point you make, there is much less effort here to reduce sugar consumption by children. Probably some kind of conspiracy between the dentists and the candy makers. Veneers? I have one but was told by my UK dentist that it was necessary. Wouldn't fancy having it done to all my teeth.....

Melanie - hello and welcome back! You gave me some really useful advice this time last year re moving - I used the movers you recommended and have become a huge fan of LL Bean......yes, do feel free to email me about anything. (And I agree about truly awful teeth - I know some men who are quite good looking but it's ruined by their fangs.)

Nappy Valley Housewife said...

Hi, I found your blog because Almost American mentioned it in a comment to me. I'm brand new at blogging and feel as though you and I have traded places---I'm a New Yorker living in Nappy Valley.

This article is so funny and so true. I'm an American married to a Brit and, after a decade in the UK, I think my teeth have become the most British thing about me. In other words, they don't look like Chicklets (the American gum) and I'd never make it as a U.S. weather girl.

nappy valley girl said...

NVH - how strange, we do appear to have swapped lives....hope you are enjoying life in Nappy Valley! Feel free to email me with any questions - I don't know how long you've lived there but I could probably help with things? x

ella said...

We're moving to California and I have to admit one of my main worries is having to get my teeth fixed. There's nothing really wrong with them and I had braces when I was a teenager, but they wouldn't pass in America. But the thought of cosmetic dentistry at my age is kind of laughable!