Skip to content

LFPR

AN ENGLISH ROSE IN GEORGIA –

By Lesley Francis

THE GREAT AMERICAN SMILE

I have my dentist on speed dial – seriously. In fact, I am only going into the July 4th long weekend with a smile and ability to chew hamburgers because my dentist once again rescued me this week with a 7am emergency dental appointment. 

My teeth have always been challenging. Unfortunately, nationalized British dentistry of my youth in the 1970s and 1980s was not great, and as a child our water was not fluoridated. In the USA pilot water fluoridization schemes began in the mid-1940s in Grand Rapids, Michigan and when subsequent studies showed a significantly lower rate of cavities in schoolchildren, water fluoridation spread to other towns and cities. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention named community water fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. By 1970 nearly half of Americans received their drinking water with added fluoride. The UK lagged behind the USA with significant trials starting in the 1960s but this stalled until the 1980s and I was not raised in one of the few test areas that had added fluoride during my childhood. However, it is only fair to add that in recent years, there has been concern about the risks associated with fluoride and the US Public Health Service has lowered recommended levels. 

Anyway, back to my problematic teeth. I became terrified of the dentist as a child since 1970s British dentistry used little anesthesia and had few child-friendly dentistry practices, so I went to the dentist but hated it. As a child it was explained to me that to have dentures in your forties was quite usual and I clearly remember seeing my Grandmother’s false teeth in a glass by side of her bed and her displaying her gummy, toothless smile! So today I pay a lot of attention to dental hygiene and checkups, and as a result I have generally good looking but high-maintenance teeth.   

It is a long-standing joke amongst Americans that British teeth are terrible and although that seems to be changing for the better, it is true that Americans have long valued a ‘Hollywood’ smile with straight, shiny white teeth. Like many Brits before me, when I emigrated to America, I found that US dentists are generally fantastic and then met my own amazing dentist. His skill, sedation, anesthesia, kindness and professionalism have saved my teeth to the point that I have veneers, crowns, implants, root canal work and anything else you can think of… but I also have an American quality smile! Occasionally, my dentist has to rescue my teeth when I have a dental emergency. Once, he and his dental nurse wife met me at his office late on a Saturday evening to make sure I didn’t have a missing front crown for a party the next day and important meeting on Monday morning. My husband jokes that over the years my teeth have cost more than his first house, but whether that is true or not, I think it is worth it. 

So, what are teeth? Made up mostly of hydroxyapatite, a relatively weak gemstone, teeth begin to grow on the gums when a baby is around six months old – hence the nightmare of soothing a baby who is teething. Those teeth hang on until children start losing them around age 6 and the tooth fairy visits begin. In various cultures, baby teeth are alternately buried, thrown, or exchanged by spirits for money, such as by the Tooth Fairy. By age 12, most of the larger, adult teeth have arrived and sometimes grow-in crooked, and usually yellow with time and use. However, contemporary beauty standards favor teeth that are neatly arranged and in a shade of white, hence the widespread use of braces or retainers in the teenage years – not something that was common in my 1970s British childhood.  

Americans lead the world in smiles typified by bigness, whiteness and straightness. This concept began in the late 1930s when Hollywood dentist Charles Pincus popularized tooth caps for movie stars and celebrities like Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, James Dean, Walt Disney, Bob Hope and many more. Pincus’s veneers, a mix of powdered plastic and porcelain, snapped onto the teeth of his clients and clung there for anywhere from a few hours to a few days before requiring replacement. Then, in 1983, John Calamia, a cosmetic dentist at New York University, helped invent the contemporary veneer by creating a better fit that could reliably stay put for many years: Allure Magazine called it the “snowflake-precise, etched porcelain veneer technique”.  

There is a lot more information at www.history.com and www.cdc.gov.

I will leave you with an amusing quote from famous advice columnist, Ann Landers: “Blessed are those who can hold lively conversations with the helplessly mute, for they shall be called dentists.” 

God bless America and smile on The 4th of July.  I will be!  

– ENDS – 

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com  or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com