Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grin and Bare 'Em: Bad Teeth


I saw Anchorman for the first time the other night, and after my hysterics re: the jazz flute scene had subsided, I took note of the close-up of Will Ferrell's mouth. Here's a picture: 



So, Will Ferrell doesn't have the greatest teeth. The shot was played in close-up here for comic effect, but those are his real teeth (as opposed to Mike Myers' in Austin Powers), and I immediately harrumphed over the fact that a female performer—even a comic one—could never get away with not "fixing" her teeth and still be successful.

The internet shows me I'm wrong. I mean, look at all the female celebrities out there with "bad teeth." Madonna! Lauren Hutton! Anna Paquin! Jessica ParĂ©! And yet, notice anything here? Despite showing up repeatedly on collections of "celebrities with bad teeth," there's nothing wrong with these women's teeth, except that they have a gap up front*, a far cry from Ferrell's crooked, yellowing bottom choppers. Sure, alongside these gap-toothed women, various slideshows cite Jewel (snaggletooth!) and Kirsten Dunst (baby teeth!), but assuming that the two of them even qualify as having "bad teeth," are there any other female celebrities with significant orthodontic problems? (Amy Winehouse certainly did, but her dental condition was linked to the drug addiction that killed her; sadly, the effect was part of her image.) 

It's hardly a surprise that appearance standards are higher for women in this regard, given that they're higher in pretty much every regard. Will Ferrell, Steve Buscemi, Seal, Morgan Freeman, Ricky Gervais—all successful (though none known for their good looks), all with teeth in worse shape than any of the female celebrities with supposedly "bad teeth" out there. What's more surprising is that anyone in the public eye has the teeth nature gave them. Cosmetic dentistry has skyrocketed in recent years among the hoi polloi, let alone people who make their living in part from their faces. And while the same names crop up over and over again on lists of "bad celebrity teeth," when you look at the list of celebrities who once had "bad teeth" but got them fixed, it's all over the place: Tom Cruise! Miley Cyrus! The Beckhams, David Bowie, Lindsay Lohan, Zac Efron, Michael Douglas, Celine Dion, Chris Rock, Nic Cage. I'd go on, but you get the point. 

But that's Hollywood, where people make their living off their looks, even if those looks fall outside of mainstream attractiveness. For the rest of us, though, changing our "bad teeth" isn't necessarily out of reach—it's expensive, sure, but depending on what you get done, not unthinkably so. And the benefits are plenty: Tooth decay and discoloration are associated with appearing less competent, less intelligent, less well-adjusted, and less satisfied—regardless of gender. (That's not even touching the relationship between dental care and class; just think of how often funky teeth are used for comedic effect to poke fun at "trailer trash" in sketch comedy.) But there's a paradox here: While men have been seeking cosmetic dentistry in greater numbers in the last few years, women still make up the majority of patients, even though the benefit they receive from their newly pearly whites isn't greater than it is for men (though it's impossible to measure the cumulative effect that dental work has on overall appearance, which has greater benefit for women socially). Of course, that's true of dentistry in general: Women are likelier than men to seek preventative dental care, which makes me wonder if the actual "need" (as it were) for cosmetic dentistry is less overall for women, meaning that the playing field is inherently uneven as far as the benefit actually received. That is: If men have worse teeth overall, the expectations might generally be lower for them, meaning that average teeth on men are perceived as being "better" than average teeth on women. (I'm hypothesizing here; couldn't find any numbers.) 

Besides the general ethos skewing toward everyone-should-look-like-Kim-Kardashian-at-all-times, there's another reason for the rise of cosmetic dentistry: patients as consumers. Health care in the States has increasingly been painted as a series of consumer choices, not a utility or basic human need. Even Obamacare, which makes some much-needed changes in our system, relies upon the idea that patients will treat their health insurance as a consumer choice. Couple this view with the fact that cosmetic dentistry really is a consumer good, at least more so than your annual tooth cleaning, and suddenly cosmetic dentistry shifts from being seen as something only the rich do to being seen as something that's on the same scale as checkups, cleanings, or orthodontic care. (If you're like me—that is, lacking dental insurance don't even get me started—that illusion is only magnified because all payments are out-of-pocket.) 

In fact, patient-as-consumer might be another reason that women make up the majority of cosmetic dentistry patients: Women tend to be better informed than men about their health, and when we're talking about procedures that are framed as consumer choices, that effect is exaggerated. Show me the last time Esquire ran a guide to the best ways to whiten your teeth, eh? And the effect is cyclical: Dentists are encouraged to pay attention to their office aesthetics because "[women] notice everything," the idea being that the most closely a cosmetic dentistry outlet models a medi-spa, the more the patient-consumer feels cared for specifically as a consumer.

I'll be honest: Reading up on cosmetic dentistry was a little hard for me. My teeth are perfectly healthy in the sense that I have minimal cavities and erosion, but cosmetically they're not the best—a little crooked, a little crowded, a little (okay, a lot) yellowed. I had retainers twice as a kid, and as a teenager my dentist recommended braces specifically for cosmetic reasons, but of all the battles to fight with my parents, funding prom seemed more worthy. Their discoloration didn't bother me a whit until tooth-whitening became a Thing, and I experimented with various kits that seemed to make a negligible difference on my appearance (and a noticeable effect on my bank balance). I'm a little self-conscious of my bared-teeth smile (though far less now than before I decided to start flashing 'em during photos), and honestly, if my income were double what it is, I'd probably have some sort of work done on them. 

But just as dyed-to-match prom heels seemed a bigger deal than straight teeth to me in 1993, ultimately having perfect teeth isn't worth it to me. I'll never suggest that you should turn to me for tips on "how to love your looks"; it's not what I'm good at, either in embodying that ethos or giving instruction on it. What I will say is this: Viewing cosmetic dentistry as a consumer might ultimately make more people buy in—but it's had the opposite effect on me. I look at my earning power, and I look at my goals, and I just don't see room in there for making my pearls pearlier, you know? Obviously I find space in my budget for other optional expenses—$56 retinol cream? Bring it! And given that I haven't started serious wrinkling yet, but use this stuff daily, I'll be "bringing it" for the rest of my life, adding up to a not-inconsiderable sum that I could probably spend on veneers or whitening. Perhaps it's the effect of knowing that my discoloration only bothers me because "the media" told me it should (seriously, I didn't think twice about it until I'd read, oh, my fifth or so feature on it in ladymags); perhaps it's consumer skepticsm; perhaps it's just good old-fashioned resilience. Whatever it is, I'm taking a cue from Kirsten Dunst and sticking with my "snaggle fangs": "They give me character, and character is sexy." I'll sink my teeth into that.



*And about those gap teeth: I'd always thought they were sexy, and I'd privately credited this to my occasionally offbeat taste (I have a thing for adults with scars from teen acne, for example). But it turns out I'm not progressive here so much as I'm regressive—back to the Middle Ages, when women with gapped teeth were seen as lustful. Given the morals of the time, lustful was hardly synonymous with sexy-as-attractive, but it's on pace with sexy-as…sexual, I suppose. A gap-toothed smile is also considered attractive in some parts of Africa, and in 1987 Les Blank made a short documentary called Gap-Toothed Women, which is about…gap-toothed women. 

33 comments:

  1. What one can always tell one's self re: teeth is that if they're not perfect, it's more "European" (or "French" if one needs to pick a country), and it's all effortlessness, insouciance, and charm. This is at any rate how I defended my choice to ignore it when a dentist pointed out that one of my teeth (one only a dentist would likely notice) is discolored (which it always has been, and I never even thought about caring), and assumed I would want to pay extra to do something about this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heh, that's absolutely how I pitched it to myself. As I do with my unkempt updo...

      Delete
  2. I've had overcrowded snaggle fangs my whole life. I had to have some baby teeth ripped out so the adult teeth could come through. I had retainers. I was also recommended braces, as well as removing two of my molars to make room. My mother decided against this, and honestly, I'm glad she did. Braces sound like a nightmare.
    I have never been big on smiling with my teeth in photos - even though no-one ever actually specifically commented on my teeth, I was well aware they were pretty...unusual. But I didn't realise how much my snaggle fangs meant to my sense of identity until a dentist suggested I remove one that had been crowded so badly it was sitting under my tounge. It wasn't bothering me, it was just...there. I objected so strongly to the idea of removing it my boyfriend dubbed it Britney, because I was forever telling people to leave it alone.

    I did get Britney taken out in the end, but I still miss her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. RIP Britney. She served thee well, Cassie, let's never forget that--

      Delete
  3. Try looking at British actresses. You'll have better luck finding bad teeth over the pond.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The whole "British teeth" thing is interesting--dental care has gotten better across the pond from what I've heard, but yeah, it's still not nearly as ubiquitous as it is in the States. (See also Phoebe's note above!)

      Delete
  4. Great post and spot-on observations. And I'm glad you talked about your own teeth because...well, this is weird but when I saw your picture from your recent gamifying beauty post, I immediately thought, OMG she has the most awesome pointy incisors (bicuspids?) EVER! I've always wanted that slightly vampiric shape, I think it's so cool and sexy (I guess I could get mine filed, ha!) And it's funny you mentioned Nicholas Cage. I watched Valley Girls recently and fell head over heels in love with his original teeth! I was so sad that he had work done on them. I'm sitting there looking at him in the movie and thinking, what the hell did he do to himself? His teeth were so cute before!!
    Anyway, I hope you're not creeped out by my new fascination with your pointy teeth, LOL. And also, if you ever decide to whiten, definitely DO NOT splurge on in-office treatments like Zoom - I had it done, it cost a fortune, hurt like hell and didn't even work! I had better results with Crest whitestrips!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, that's awesome! And the funny thing is, I was indeed self-conscious about that string of photos because the mod look emphasized my fangs dramatically, but your comment just goes to show I was right to put it out there!

      I've tried the Crest Whitestrips and it made *a* difference but not enough of one to justify the expense. I'd always thought I'd do an in-office treatment if it came to it, so thanks for the tip!

      Delete
  5. Great post Autumn!

    I had braces as a teen, and, while it was annoying for the 3.5 years I had them, I now love my pearly and, yes, straight whites. I had very crooked teeth prior to braces, and I think my straight teeth do give me a lot of confidence, at least when I smile.

    I argued with my orthodontist that braces were purely cosmetic, and told me that straight teeth actually basically last longer and are less likely to fall out later in life. I haven't investigated this fact myself, but I'd like to hope it's true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's go ahead and declare it the truth! It does make sense that one would be less likely to do damage to one's teeth if they're straight--like, getting jarred wouldn't risk bumping your teeth around, or something.

      Delete
  6. I think it's interesting that you write that "snaggle fangs" give you character but wrinkling would not. I'd argue that both tooth alignment/discoloration and skin aging only bother us because "the media" tells us it should. Of course everyone is allowed to prioritize whatever they please, it's just interesting that you seem to differentiate two essentially similar sides of the same coin, the only difference being that skin is harder to hide than teeth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting point--I hadn't thought of it that way. I mean, I do think that wrinkles give "character" to a point, but I have zero problems doing my damndest to stave them off as long as I can. But then again, maybe that's just it: At this age, wrinkles aren't really a defining feature of my face. When I'm in my 60s with undeniable wrinkles, I may be more willing to accept them as giving character, because they'll be so much a part of me that I won't have much choice anyway. Perhaps it's a matter of prevention vs. actual undoing that puts me in the mind-set of attributing "character" to a trait that's not considered desireable? Hmm. In any case, food for thought--thanks!

      Delete
  7. I've heard that singers (i.e. Nadinna, Jewel, etc.) refuse to fix three teeth because it will change their voice/singing. Interesting post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh, interesting! I remember hearing the same thing about Barbara Streisand's refusal to "fix" her nose. There could obviously be truth to both of these lines of thinking, but I also wonder if these women feel that they need to offer an "excuse" of sorts for not conforming more to the beauty standard.

      Delete
    2. P.S. I meant Madonna, not whatever my stupid smart phone auto-corrected! I think teeth add so much character and uniqueness to the face- I would totally embrace a gap if i were famous.

      Perhaps you're right about Barbara and the ladies setting themselves apart!

      Delete
    3. Ha! I just assumed "Nadinna" was someone I was too old to know, like Rihanna's sister or whatever.

      Delete
  8. Denture repairs can be easily done by a skilled dental technician within a couple of hours depending on the extent of the fracture. The advantage of having it repaired in dental laboratories is that the right materials are used in strengthening the denture. Moreover, when dentures are repaired by experts, the denture wearer is also safe from sharp edges, tiny denture material particles, and improper application of denture adhesive.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think it has to be stressed that how teeth look these days isn't really as important as how stable they are or how free they are from cavities. That's what the people should focus on, not those designer braces that's so in the rage yet are purely cosmetic and can't really hold teeth together.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for this post! I'm only 15 and I've been struggling to accept my crooked teeth. Because just like you said, it's really not worth it. The time, effort, and MONEY put into braces & straight teeth are overrated. I would much rather go buy some new clothes and etc then to go through the straight teeth process. & I admit I cover my mouth when I laugh or whatever because I am self conscious and everyone now a days has braces or already got them off. But, in all reality who said we need to have straight teeth? Why not just live in pride with the teeth God gave us!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Passing on a beautiful and bright smile helps winning the heart of anyone, so you must ensure that you have sparkling white teeth. Start taking care of your oral health to gain better personality and tremendous confidence of talking face to face with people.

    ReplyDelete
  12. But is the quest for a bright, sparkling smile as safe and effective as dental brochures claim? Cosmetic dentists are increasingly coming under fire for making exaggerated claims for costly laser-bleaching treatments.www.teethwhiteningkits2you.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  13. Bad teeth can age you especially when they are yellow too, if you drink red wine, smoke and eat curry you should really think about removing these stains visit

    ReplyDelete
  14. Well actually thanks for the insightful information.....Dental Cleaning

    ReplyDelete
  15. A couple of months ago my dentist made me aware of my open bite. This means that only my molars are and front teeth touch. You can't really see it when i'm talking or smiling, you can only see it when I bite. Since the dentist told me this I am unsecure about this. To fix my open bite I have to wear braces and get jaw surgery: I am NOT going to do this. Now I am trying to be statisfied with myself, like the time before i noticed my open bite. This article has really helped me with that, thank you very much!

    ReplyDelete
  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  17. One stop shop for dental product buyers guides, news, reviews, apps | Demo and Try before you buy, review a dental product in 2013. Cosmetic Dentist in Vancouver

    ReplyDelete
  18. The team at Precision Esthetics in Palm Beach work hard to achieve results that both the patient and the dentist are happy with. They offer very high quality implant cases for dentist in the US. Not only are they superb lab technicians with great deal of knowledge, but also very prompt and easy to work with. I have a long standing relationship with PE and highly recommend them to all my colleagues. You should check out their website www.precisionesthetics.com or call them today (800) 942-3368.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I saw Anchorman for the first time the other night, and after my hysterics re: the jazz flute scene had subsided, I took note of the close-up of Will Ferrell's mouth. Here's a picture: Vancouver Cosmetic Dentist

    ReplyDelete
  20. One fan was especially annoyed and threw his false teeth at the manager- which is really gross. I guess sometimes shouting, swearing and flares just aren't enough. Calgary Cosmetic Dentist

    ReplyDelete