Un-American Teeth

I first encountered American teeth when at school.

An American girl joined our class in the second term…she had no uniform, had no idea of the syllabus we were following, but made the best of it that she could.

We had been warned beforehand…her family were in the U.K. on a transfer from the father’s firm…she should have been going to a private school but arrangements had fallen through…..and we were to be kind and helpful for the brief time with which she would be with us.


But…the teeth.She had what I knew later to be braces…some sort of metal cage round her teeth…a phenomenom completely unknown to us.

With true British reticence, no one commented on this or posed questions…

I was not in the circle who invited her to the house…father, having discovered for which firm her father worked, was not entranced…but I did cop the odd invitation to her family’s place, through her father’s commercial contact with one of my uncles.

The parents were very hospitable, making sure we were all at our ease…clearly, very nice, kind people…as we made our best efforts not to be surprised by a mould in which salad was encased in lime jelly – a far cry from the Sunday salad of beetroot, cucumber and lettuse to which we were accustomed – and the hot dogs served with sauerkraut and mustard…to me, a real treat!

But again…The teeth!

All the children had braces while the parents had perfectly even white teeth which made us suspect that they were false, so perfect were they.

My first encounter with American teeth was not of long duration. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party came to power and our classmate’s father’s firm was withdrawn from the U.K. tout de suite as it was assumed that communism had taken control of the country.

This view seemed to be shared by the more antiquated elements of the British army as their later aborted coup would show, but for the majority of people his promises of using technology to bring the country out if its traditional Tory torpor were nothing if not welcome.

Those American teeth struck us because we, profiting from the post war settlement, had had the privilege of being supplied with free dental treatment from an early age….

Unfortunately, this meant that we had the services of the school dental service.

Lined up to accept their attentions the accepted view was that, while the Americans and the Russians had captured all the rocket scientists, the British had captured the Gestapo operatives and were letting them loose on the nation’s chldren.

I was most upset because, though I dutifully brushed the teeth and was not fond of sweet stuff, I always seemed to have fillings whose treatment was administered without anaesthetic using a drill activated by the dentist’s foot.

This came to an end when one of the torturers assured me that what he was about to do would not hurt….. I was a fairly stoic child, but the pain nearly lifted me from the chair and, seizing my opportunity, I bit the bugger.

Not that that freed me from dentists….every six months off to a surgery hidden behind a belt of trees and a shrubbery. ‘Deadens the screams’ said father. Nowhere near so bad…though I can still recall the smell of that rubber mask for anaesthesia….

Then came a period when I kept on growing wisdom teeth….one would come through, another right behind it…by which time a wave of young handsome Australian dentists had hit the U.K.. Mine was a dab hand with the x ray machine…perish the thought of precautions…and kept showing me the next tooth on the rack with great delight. Any fear of dentists evaporated with this chap as he talked cricket non stop as he worked and was both deft and caring.

Having to repair a mess on my front teeth he showed me his colour chart by which he would match the repair strip to the existing tooth – and did a great job which has lasted to this day. British teeth, it seemed, came in all shades, from ivory to milky coffee….but never brilliant white.

Following the wave of Australian dentists came the wave of American Mormons…..we were used to the Jehoveh’s Witnesses, but this was a new plague. Pairs of young men in white bri nylon shirts with satchels over their shoulder, bearing name tags which identified them as Elder something or other…

Well if they were elders, what were the younger ones like, one asked.

And all with American teeth! It was alarming…..all brilliantly white and even…uncanny! You would catch yourself looking at the teeth as they gave their spiel, wondering if they had all been supplied with false teeth before venturing into the wilds of Europe or whether anything like that could really be natural…

Gradually, though, American teeth began to take over the U.K. White even teeth, you were informed, would give people confidence in you.

Yes, well, up to a point, Lord Copper. As far as I was concerned, if you formed your views of someone on the state of their teeth then you were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Teeth are there to reduce food to a state fit for digestion, they are not cosmetic. To me the whole thing stank of dentists keen to bolster the incomes which had made them notorious as lovers of fast cars and fast women….but people fell for it. Off they went to have their gnashers straightened and bleached, kids had their teeth caged….while those who could not afford the nonsense practised smiling like Good Queen Bess – a sort of grimace which did not show the teeth at all for fear of revealing their state. A belly laugh became a thing of the past.

Many years later, moving to Costa Rica, I soon noticed that the country was infested with lawyers and dentists. While in the smarter areas the dentists just had normal shop signs, in poorer areas their presence was indicated by huge depictions of teeth with vast roots. Let not the inability to read deprive you of dental services.

The country was also marked by American teeth. No one who is anyone lacks American teeth. Especially lawyers. Vast expanses of perfectly even, brilliantly white teeth. Very boring…no character, no inkling that under that perfect smile a gat toothed Wife of Bath might be lurking….

But it matters….

While we were quite fresh to the place, a developer was trying to abstract water to get permission to build a pile of houses nearby and we were involved in the succeeding water wars which went on for some time. As foreigners, we came in for a fair bit of calumny which has taken years to die down and while it was at its height I was chatting to a woman in the supermarket.

All went swimmingly until she asked where I lived and said in hushed tones that Senora X – wife of developer – had told her that there was a really obnoxious gringo living nearby who did nothing but cause trouble.

Well, that was either us or our unpleasant North American neighbour, the one who tried to stop us building out new house.

So I told her that there were two gringos in the area, which one did Senora X mean, did she think?

The one with yellow teeth.

‘Like this?’ And I bared my fangs in a most unElizabethan smile.


42 thoughts on “Un-American Teeth”

  1. You’re right. You can tell the person by their teeth and what they generally eat. Here in France, black coffee and sweet drinks play havoc and dentists aren’t allowed to send out reminders!

  2. Well, not all Americans have white teeth, though I’ve tried, and I did have braces.

    I’m thinking of moving, Helen. I’m thinking the house is too much work and money to maintain. Plus semi-trucks have started using the little country road in front of my house as a shortcut. This cannot be good. Still, it’s a big decision.

    1. I know…I should not generalise….but they are so common in both senses of the word.

      That is a decision! I can see what you mean as it does seem to be a money pit…and you certainly don’t want heavy traffic on the road…
      You have made the house attractive to potential buyers…there are always other houses…but I suppose it also depends on how much of yourself is bound up with the house.
      I loved our last house in France…but realistically there is no way I could have maintained it and the gardens as years went on.

      1. Exactly. Without Julien I’d be in over my head right now. I think I’ll do some landscaping to give the place curb appeal. By then covid restrictions will have eased. If the front garden is nice, not the rubble-stewn mess it is right now, if I can get into Paris every few weeks, maybe I’ll feel better about staying. Besides, Paris and other big cities are way too expensive, too polluted, etc. The resort towns are ghost towns in winter. So realistically, where would I go?

        1. Giving the place curb appeal is no bad idea anyway, looking to the future, and it keeps you involved with the house. Then, if you can get away from time to time, to somewhere where life has not stood still for years, then you have a contrast…glad to get away, glad to be back.
          As to where would you go, agreed, provincial French towns don’t differ much from the Saumur of Eugenie Grandet even to this day. Everyone has and knows its place….and the metropoles are viciously expensive.
          Time to think again when you have the place attractive to a buyer…but then, think again..you are not limited to France, though, bu the sound of things, you could do worse than Mazamet!

      1. Hahahaha. My thoughts exactly, right up there with a studio apartment in Paris, which is basically what this house is worth. It’s not that it ain’t broke, but the more I look at the fix, the more I think I should leave well enough alone.

        1. Good! That would be too much right now. Also selling in this Covid climate isn’t ideal. I panic sometimes and think this is all too much, that we should live in something compact and practical – but then the sun comes out or the flowers bloom or the afternoon sun hits the chandeliers and it looks like there are rainbows all around the room; then I know this is the right place for me and I remind myself how I’d long for all of that if I weren’t here ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. We toddled off every six months when we lived there….a bit like Queen Elizabeth’s bath, whether we needed it or not…..and were lucky to have a good dentist, but there were some right butchers about! No wonder people were reluctant to go to them!
    Have you spotted the red teeth after drinking some wines best left untasted?

  4. I have been to a dentist every 6 months since my first tooth came through. Mum was determined I would never be scared of a dentist! In the early days in Rhodesia, suddenly I had a mouth full of fillings, I am convinced to this day I never had bad teeth he was just making money. The problem now is trying to keep what I have intact. A woman here in France in a local village is the only dentist I have met that I would have happily bitten. It was an emergency toothache before we moved permanently. She happily did a nerve block with no injection. How I did not end up on the ceiling I will never know and she could not believe that I was in pain!! Since arriving here we now have a young lady who looks about 16 but is married with 2 kids so I guess she has to be older than 16 and is well qualified. The most brilliant dentist I have ever been to, she has done some amazing work on my teeth including capping the horrendous job that the first French lady did. I gather that the former woman is about to retire, not before time I would say. I have very crooked teeth on the bottom, who had ever heard of braces. Just an odd on – I had my wisdom teeth removed in hospital in Rhodesia by a gentleman who was a renowned brilliant surgeon. I ended up with a piece of bone splintered that caused many problems until they made the discovery of what they had done!!
    Think things have changed over the years but a bit late for us!!!
    Hope you are both well, or as well as possible. Take care, Diane.

    1. Leo had that mouthful of fillings experience too…he was convinced that he had no problems but could not persuade his father that the dentist was just making money.
      We were so lucky that the French dentist took us on…her competition were absolute butchers, including the chap in our village who ran the am dram…my first sight of him was emerging from the bar with his coat full of blood after an extraction which had been ‘difficult’! I bless my australian dentist…solved the wisdom tooth problem which would otherwise have meant a hospital job. I am certainly not going in for American teeth at my age…they are still gnashing well so i’m leaving them alone!

  5. Australian dentists used to be in London by the thousand.
    All the ones I met were brilliant, and very Australian!
    In Leith, I ate lots of cheap chewing gum. A year or two later in London the Aussies filled seven of the holes left by the gum. They did lots of other things also.
    My dentist here left, and I was told by an old workmate that the new one had tried to sell him white Yank teeth.
    “Not at my age” was his reply. It put me off going back and I have missed the old Indian guy who left.
    All US live in a false world, very little of those seen on TV is their own.
    Politicians the same.

    1. I used to think that becoming a dentist was just right for Australians…they could blather on while the victim could not reply! Still, my aussie dentist was just superb.
      I suppose those teeth are small beer when you look at women puffing up their lips like pillows….and goodness only knows what else!

    1. Flattery will get you anywhere! If that were the case I wish they had kept on coming!
      I hope your horizons are opening and that you and your wife can start to enjoy a social life again.

  6. Your story made me smile but then I became self-conscious about my straight white teeth and I pulled my lips back over the choppers. In Japan women are considered especially cute if they have one slightly snaggled tooth upfront. Something about beauty being in the single imperfection or maybe just a scam by the local dentists. Anyway, the Alpha Japanese Female has that highly desired singular tooth and for as long as I have known her (and that goes back to when mastodons had dental care) she has gloated over that tooth and thinks that I am hugely jealous of her single imperfection. Max, on the other hand, says he left most of his teeth at the Veterinarian and could not care less about this discussion.

  7. My mother raised us to respect teeth and dentists. My sister and I do; our brother felt they infringed on his liberties. He departed this vale with possibly half a dozen teeth remaining. His wife, our trophy sister in law, lived in this country maybe fifteen years before she returned to England. When she came back to visit she was missing a front canine. We were going out to dinner one night and she appeared with all her teeth. She confessed she knew how Americans feel about missing teeth and she had one made for the trip. It stayed in by a little suction device on the roof of her mouth. Part way through dinner she had to rescue it from the meal, and we never saw it again.

  8. Boy does this bring a smile. When my hubby was gainfully employed as a head attorney at a NASA center, he had braces put on to resolve an overbite. There he was in the tiny made for small kids chairs in the dentist office. Very funny. He then ordered colored rubber bands on front that help hold them in place- to match his ties. Thatโ€™s my boy. My big boy. Still smiling and boy did I need it. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Bands to match his ties, what a great idea!
      I see these kids with a mouth full of metal and thank my lucky stars that no one thought of that torture when I was young.

        1. Well, my teeth may not be perfectly aligned…but they do the job! And should they fail, then as one says of an old dog still up for a fight, they can still give you a nasty suck with their gums!
          Come to that, mother used to remove her false teeth to eat pork crackling….

  9. Am convinced your neighbor was referring to the ‘other’ Gringo and no doubt, rightfully so. I’m always taken aback by American bravado in foreign countries (hmm…come to think of it now, even in the states) having been socialized to believe that being loud and boastful was a not an admirable trait. Add to the mix, a completely unreasonable sense of entitlement and brash arrogance…it’s no wonder so many are loathed all over the world. Luckily my “German” teeth while straight don’t betray me whilst waiting in line for a coffee despite having grown up in the US after immigrating. ๐Ÿ˜

    1. I’m not too sure…he has the de rigeur American teeth, being a lawyer – even if a lawyer who specialises in DUI cases.
      There are some very pleasant Americans living in the area…or so I am led to believe…but their behaviour at the farmers’ market gives me pause for thought on that score and one of them is known as ‘.master of the universe’ at my bank as he struts in and out, clad in ironed shorts, knee length socks…you get the picture, the colonial master to the life! All he lacks is the pith helmet.
      Mark you, Brits abroad can be a pickle, too….

      1. Nothing like a self important Yank. Sigh. They need to be seen and not heard for the most part. And having worked with them for 87 years…lawyers in particular can be the worst! Arrogance AND insecurity all wrapped up in white straight teeth. ๐Ÿคฎ

  10. While I wish my teeth were whiter, they are at least all my own work and still functioning more than adequately after all these years. We are lucky to have a very good dentist, even if she is 50 kilometers away. She is gentle and laughs a lot and has carried out root canal without me feeling anything. She looked about 15 when I first went to her twelve years ao, and she still looks 15 now.

    Those perfect, cosmetically-enhanced teeth always look like false teeth to me, particularly in the way the edges are so smooth and regular and there is no space between them.

    Did you ever notice how Prince Philip’s lower teeth were really higgledy piggledy?

  11. I can’t say I ever looked at his teeth…..but he seemed to have got on pretty well in life without messing about with them.
    To me these teeth look false..all too regular….they used to fascinate me on first acquaintance but now I see acres of the things andhave become accustomed to them. They still look awful, though.
    Since the Australian dentist all has been well….our dentist in France was super, too, luckily, as the others in the area would have qualified for the Gestapo.

  12. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a very high opinion of British dentists. I have met two who have been extremely peculiar, in just the way you really don’t want your dentist to be peculiar. Like, chatting away to the dental nurse and casually remarking “Y’know, sometimes I just TOTALLY lose it, I absolutely freak out! I just somehow feel so emotional I don’t know what I’m doing….” Which could have applied to my last but one come to think of it, except that was a woman, boss of the practice, who gathered together a consort of dental nurses, assistants, and more junior dentists who stood shuffling their feet as she asked them to confirm that I needed another filling on the very same tooth she’d filled 2 months ago, reducing herself almost to tears in the process. And the one who began to take pleasure in hurting people after he had had a car accident and went around muttering to himself. And then of course there were the two twin dentists, pleasant enough apart from Victorian dental equipment, who looked exactly like the Thompson Twins from Tintin. Whenever I go to the dentist these days I always find myself humming Steve Martin’s “Dentist” from “Little Shop of Horrors.” It calms me down somehow.

    1. Once the Australian dentist gave me confidence, I had no more worries re dentits…a good scottish one followed, the dentist in France was fine and I have an elderly lady dentist here.
      The bunch you describe would have me back to biting the hand inserted in my mouth in no time!

  13. I confess that I wish I had been forced to take better care of my teeth. That aside, I have met too many dentists who think far too much of themselves and are complete shits (no, I won’t come off the fence on this). Away from the NHS, the option of which is closed to many, those in private practice in the UK seem to be very poorly regulated and, like lawyers, charge pretty much what they like. This is wrong in essential services.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s