04 January 2012

The Dentist

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

The English have a reputation for having bad teeth, so you can imagine my concern for visiting an English dentist. So let's explore that...

  • First of all, one of the reasons they may not have good teeth is because dentistry (except emergency care) is not covered by the NHS. And a private dental cleaning costs £110 (approx $170) a pop, so with a family of 4 paying out of pocket, preventative cleanings don't happen twice a year for most people. If at all.
  • Fluoride is not in the water.
  • Without hard numbers, I am guessing smoking is more prevalent here than in the US. Also not good for the pearly whites.
  • Although there are orthodontists, I don't see many teenagers wearing braces (another big out of pocket expense).
  • I've never seen a dental practice cater to children only. And *gasp*, there is no toy box with goodies to lure kids in (unheard of in the US). My guess is children don't form early habits of regular check ups that would continue into adulthood.

You can imagine my husband's quizzical look when he heard 'Good Luck!' several times by co-workers as he mentioned he'd be late to work due to a dental visit. 

Then imagine my surprise when the dentist gushed on and on about my teeth - like I was a rock star! He loves American dentistry, he tells me. Let me say, my teeth are super-duper average.

My cleaning was VERY gentle - I think this is because most patients visit only in emergencies with pain. The dental hygienist didn't use the sucky-hose when she cleaned my teeth. Instead, I was told to 'swish' and spit into the basin. She did floss and use 'the pokey thing' I was accustomed to in the US. And when it was time to polish, she gently placed safety glasses over my eyes (the English are very safety conscious, you know). I walked away empty handed - no goody bag with floss or toothbrush. But at least my gums were in tact - not swollen and bleeding like in the US where they scour my teeth and gums.

In a recent magazine, American teeth were described as too perfect, 'like white piano keys'. Supposedly the rich and famous British will have their smiles enhanced in Paris with teeth adjusted but not perfectly straightened or overly-bleached. They go for a more 'natural' look. Interestingly, the level of bleach used in the US for professional teeth whitening is illegal here. 

In case you are wondering, I continue to visit my American dentist for a real bruising and deep clean. Then 6 months later I visit the UK dentist to hear how fabulous I am my teeth are ;) Complementary yin and yang, my friends

(Postscript: Thank you to my wonderful commenters, who steered me when I went astray. The NHS does provide dental care at a fee but known for inconsistent quality of care.)

More medical posts:
Giving Birth in the UK
More on the NHS

40 comments:

Ola said...

interesting text, I learnt with pleasure about the differences in the 'systems'! It's true-Americans are known for they obsession with clean pretty smiles:) Good!

Belle said...

Here's something I learned when I was pregnant with my first son while living in London: dentistry IS covered on the NHS for pregnant women and new mothers up to one year after the birth of their child.

We live in Denmark now and it's not covered under their system. Period. (Kids are covered until they're 16.) A German friend of ours went to the dentist not too long ago and was told that to have everything done that she needed done would be 100,000 danish kroner... that's over $17,000 dollars! Yikes!

brie. said...

we are very fortunate to have a dentist who attends US dental conferences, and also happens to be a good friend - so we know we can trust him - but you're right, you never hear of people going to the dentist, just because it's important! my dentist also gushes over my teeth, which i find rather amusing since i've luckily had very little dental work in my time - just taken care of what god gave me!

MrsB @ crankymonkeys in london said...

I love getting my teeth cleaned :) (a good private insurance scheme helps)

I have to ask you though - how DO the Americans all have such white teeth??? Is it all just cleaning and regular check ups or is there something else that is done - floride treatments? whitening?

I Dream Of said...

Ha! I think if I new my visit to the Dentist would be more like that, I might not procrastinate so much about going in! My father is actually a retired Dentist and he is strongly against the unnaturally white look so popular today -- so I can't bring myself to follow the trend and disappoint him.

Barbara said...

If the dentist raved about my teeth I would happily go as well. Thankfully, it is covered by health insurance in France, I don't know if I would pay over 100 euros for a teeth cleaning.

Victoria said...

We have dental ins. through my husbands work but it's not very good. Most things we'd have to pay for out of pocket as it only covers cleanings.

We never visited a dentist in England but we lived in Canada for 6 years where flouride treatments were given to us regularly in school. My moms teeth went downhill when she was in her early 40's, definitely due to smoking and she recently had them all pulled and now wears dentures.

I think a lot of the tooth whiteness here in the U.S. is from our toothpaste selection. I buy Arm and Hammer, it always has whitening agents in it but I would never get them professionally whitened, I've heard it destroys some of the natural enamel on our teeth.

TexWisGirl said...

too funny. i was just at the American dentist yesterday, too. and even though the hygienist uses the picks, floss, polisher, and vacuum thingy, she's extremely gentle and never makes me bleed. :)

Helen said...

Dentistry actually is covered under the NHS.

flowers on my table said...

Oh Laura you are making me cringe with all this talk of teeth and blood and cleaning and bleach....eek I hate the dentist, and have to go in 2 weeks for a filling!Americans do have lovely white teeth and brown skin, and make us Brits look rather anaemic looking.

Thankyou for your lovely message, love Linda x

wendz said...

You made me smile with this post....you're right about not going to the dentist unless I absolutely have to..and I'm not even British! Last time I went I burst into tears as he lifted the drill...talk about embarrassing. But they terrify the pants off me.

My kids, in France, have good teeth as they are more jacked up there - my eldest had braces on for over 2 years and it was so worth it. From looking like a manic jackal he now looks all neat and tidy.

loveandlilac said...

£110 for cleaning your teeth? Goodness is your dentist in Knightsbridge! My private dentist charges about £65 (still a lot of money). Most Brits equate a trip to the dentist with pain rather than making their teeth pearly white and are I think less willing to spend money on improving the look of their teeth.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Love & Lilac - I should move near you :)

Helen - really? Hmm, I'm feeling confused :) Thank you for letting me know.

Cranky Monkey - White treatments are available over-the-counter and more powerfully at the dentist. Dentists can also perform laser whitening treatments. It is in toothpastes as well. Whitening teeth is definitely a US trend, available at all budgets.

Iota said...

Dentistry WAS covered by the NHS in years gone by. As I child, I went THREE times a year for a check-up, and that was standard. Once each school holiday.

I'm glad to see you've adopted the British 'preventative' in favour of the American 'preventive' (at least I assume that's a British/American difference).

You're right. We do think American teeth are too perfect. Too 'Hollywood'. We do like a more natural look. And we shudder at the idea of braces, whereas here it is almost an obligatory part of teenage life. I'm also seeing an increasing number of adults with braces. Yikes.

Glad you get to be treated like a rock star once a year.

Kris said...

Hi Laura. Helen is right. Dental care is covered by the NHS. I just went a few months ago to an NHS dentist (who happens to be a close friend - so I trust him very much). It included an exam and a cleaning for both me and my husband and it only cost 35 pounds. Sometimes it's hard to find an NHS dentist in certain areas of the country, and you want to make sure you get recommendations. I've heard some bad stories about some NHS dentists.

Sarah @ Modern Country Style said...

Hey sweets,

I have so enjoyed following your blog this year. And YES - I would LOVE to meet up!! When? Where? How?!!

Big New Year Hugs to you,

Sarahxxx

HolleyGarden said...

I was watching an 80's movie the other day, and it was so interesting because everyone's teeth were crooked and - natural in color!!! I actually loved it - it made me feel like my teeth were not inadequate. Now, everyone's teeth look fake! I consider my teeth fairly white naturally, but I bleach them occasionally just because everyone else's is so blinding! Can you tell I'm not a fan of the so-white-they-look-fake Hollywood look?

Pieces of Sunshine said...

Very interesting. Dental work is at your own expense in Australia with similar charges to the UK by the sound of it. Braces are very expensive also. Some people have private medical insurance which can included dental. No bag of goodies to take home and no toys for children to play with....

ann said...

I do hate going to the dentist, but I guess good dental care is one more thing that we yanks take for granted.

Pondside said...

I never like going to the dentist for my twice-a-year checkups, but I'm very happy for the level of care we have in Canada.

Kate and Russ said...

Great subject for a post. Thank you for writing the British Dentist post so I can skip the experience here and continue my American cleaning over the summers!

Relics of Witney said...

We're very proud to be your 500th folower! Congratulations on such a marvellous blog. It's so interesting to hear your point of view about all the things we take for granted in England.

Happy New Year!
The Relics Team

Jane said...

I adored this post with your trademark humour, Laura. But what I'm most excited about is seeing you crack the big 500 followers! Just fabulous, Sweets - I'm so delighted for you ☺. J x

lisaroyhandbags said...

Great post! I was terrified of what to expect when I had to visit a dentist in Ireland last year (until then, I was still making my dental visits in Canada anytime we flew over for a visit). Imagine my surprise when my dentist was from Libya and he fixed by broken filling with no freezing and not a smidgen of pain. He gushed about how lovely my teeth were too and like you, instead of the bruising I would go through at home, I felt elated to have quick, painless care and compliments on top of it! :)

Happy Homemaker UK said...

I know, Jane, so exciting! :)

Privet and Holly said...

Wow, this is so interesting.
I hope our country {US} is
not headed in this same
direction. We love our {overly}
white smiles and straight
teeth! I've had braces twice
but because my retainer was
removed too soon, they are
no longer "perfect." I'm
considering Invisalign : ) !!
Guess I'm American to the core!

xx Suzanne

Laura said...

Lol- I did have an NHS dentist while in the UK and I'm still paying the price today! I've just been to the dentist today (I'm there almost twice a month) sorting out the mess that UK dentists left my mouth in. Here, I see a dentist which does basic fillings, one for extraction (believe it or not, I still have a baby teeth which wasn't extracted), one for root canals etc. Whenever I meet a new dentist they always ask if I'm English, which I reply, 'Yes, hence the teeth'... fortunately my husband has perfect cavity free teeth. I only hope my children follow suit! Lx

Gail Dixon (Louisiana Belle) said...

Fascinating! So interesting to read about the differences between UK and US healthcare. You have such an interesting blog!

Taylor Made said...

I am up for a trip to the dentist...I have so been procrastinating.....I think we have it pretty good here in Australia though.

Scented Sweetpeas said...

Interesting post, I must be an unusual brit I think :-) I don't mind going to the dentist and my kids love it too. In fact my middle child cried when she thought she would miss her appointment recently lol. There are NHS Dentists here, I use one and find them ok although you still have to pay. I only have 2 fillings in my teeth and my kids teeth are great. Re the whiteness of teeth, now this does confuse me. My teeth are not perfectly white but I don't smoke and never have done. I do love coffee though so that may be why. Do American's have their teeth whitened for them or are they naturally white ? x

Joyce said...

My girls both had orthodontics in the UK if anyone in London needs a rec. He is American trained and was great. I will not tell you what it cost in US$ though...the pound/dollar was 2-1 at the time and the conversion made my head spin!

The first dentist I went to in England had a self serve mini bar in the waiting room...Bombay and tonic before your cleaning anyone? Hubs loved the idea but I mentioned it to my mom and she said she hoped it was for the patients and not the dentist. I switched dentists. The first time the new guy saw my oldest daughter's teeth he gushed about her perfectly perfect American teeth-no wisdom teeth, sealers, 100% straight and 0 cavities. I love all thing England except this. There is nothing like American dentistry!!

Zosia said...

I've been smiling the whole time while reading this post. Smiling my post-Canadian-braces straight smile. I don't even want to go on about Polish dentistry when I was growing up in the 1970's - let me just say; THERE WAS NO FREEZING FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN A ROOT CANAL OR EXTRACTION and no-one heard about cleaning (at the dentist) or flossing.
I am happy to report that THOSE ARE THINGS OF THE PAST. However, I also heard that my teeth and gums were great when I went for cleaning after 8 months being in Poland (I went every 6 months in Canada) while in Canada the hygienist always gave me a lecture that I don't floss enough and there is a lot of plaque :-D. BTW, in Poland, there are no dental hygienists, the dentists does the cleaning as well.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

It is interesting a few of you have mentioned freezing. Is that a way to numb the area? That has never been used in the US in my lifetime to my knowledge. Just a shot of novocaine is used. 'Laughing gas' too, to help relax the patient.

As far as Americans having white teeth, it is fashionable to use chemical whitening agents - either over-the-counter or at a dentist's office (which is more powerful). It is simply cosmetic. Fascinating that the non-Americans are interested in this :) Here is greater detail: http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-whitening

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

This just cracked my business UP. :)

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

Laura, thanks for visiting my blog. I am intrigued by your experiences living abroad. I have been an expat and child of an expat in several countries. I hope you enjoy your time abroad. I look forward to reading about your adventures. When I lived in the Netherlands I was told I had one of those big American smiles where we show all our teeth. Dental care certainly isn't what it is in the States but I found that no one obsesses about their teeth like we do in the States. The cultural differences are fascinating.

Bluebells and Lavender said...

I love this post, although I did wonder whether if would upset any English people reading it! I have lived in South Africa for many many years, and thankfully my children all had orthodontics and now boast beautiful smiles! It would seem that South Africans have a similar philosophy to dental hygiene as the Americans! Love your blog!

nr said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Glenn Koehm said...

Now that you have enumerated the reasons why the English have bad teeth, it would be good to view this as a challenge to improve dentistry in UK. It's not that people don't care about their teeth; it's just that awareness isn't enough to make them take action.

Eugenie Velasquez said...

I haven't quite noticed that the British don't have very nice teeth. Maybe there are only some exceptional cases of really bad teeth. But, thank you for informing people about the need to reform the dental system in the UK. I am glad that your experience with your English dentist went really well too. I like it better when dentists are gentle and don't make me bleed so much.

Eugenie Velasquez

Caitrin Femia said...

Well, I’m very glad that your teeth seemed to be in such good condition that your dentist couldn’t stop singing its praises! That’s one step in the fight to break what is such an unfortunate stereotype. I agree with Glenn and Eugenie. There needs to be more action regarding the dental system in the UK. It’s not just the appearance of the teeth that will be better. Healthy teeth lead to many other health benefits as well, so overall health would improve if dentistry in the UK was made more available.

~ Caitrin Femia