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Americans and Teeth

At a gathering in London, someone fondly mentioned the “Austin Powers” movie franchise. Clearly, they didn’t mind the films’ fun-poking at Britishisms—and how could they, I figured, given that the barbs were so outrageous?

Chiming in, I said something about Austin’s ridiculous teeth.

Blank stares.

No one had noticed that the Austin Powers character had horrifically bad chompers.

Since then, I’ve noticed that Americans have an especial obsession with teeth. For Americans, good teeth are synonymous with good health, good breeding, good hygiene, and good manners.

We straighten our teeth. We bleach them. We hire cosmetic dentists to add veneers and pearly fake incisors and canines. We undergo plastic surgery to reshape our mouths for better toothiness.

We purchase volumes of over-the-counter dental products:

  • Seemingly limitless options for toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, and toothbrushes
  • At-home whitening strips
  • Picks and gels
  • Objects and creams and devices for multitudinous, often confusing purposes

I’ve even seen on-line dating profiles that require good teeth in a match.

Not so in other cultures.

Yes, many of these “advancements” are available in other countries, but they’re nowhere nearly as widely consumed. Rare will you find an ad for a “dental cosmetic surgeon.” And compared to the countless over-the-counter dental products our grocery and convenience stores offer, offerings in Europe seem anemic.

Of course, other cultures have other fixations. Light skin seems an obsession in Asian countries. A friend brought back underarm whitening cream from a trip to Thailand. And during a sojourn in the Greek Isles, I saw Japanese tourists in long sleeves and gloves holding parasols against the sun. If any store here sells underarm whitening cream, I haven’t visited it. And I last saw a parasol in a screening of “Gone with the Wind.”

What’s the most interesting cultural fixation you’ve noticed?

And this was just the toothpaste portion of the drug store aisle. Houston. June 8, 2013.

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Reader Comments (4)

I've observed that people from the former Soviet Union often have a serious interest in high-end clothing and accessories. And not just the women. I watched (with amusement, I admit) as a (male) Serb aquaintance of mine quizzed an American about where he got his shoes. The American was really uncomfortable because he thought the Serb was hitting on him, but no, he was just really interested in the shoes.

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

I see people using umbrellas to block the sun here all the time. Well, at least in the Med Center & Montrose area. Maybe that's because it's such a multi-cultural area.

June 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Body modification is an odd fixation affecting youth culture in the Western world. Although some tattoos look very beautiful, most do not. Some people pile on the tattoos one after the other without any rhyme or reason. Then you get into extreme types of modification like ear and lip disks and implants.

Makes me shudder thinking about it.

June 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

I'm not much for tattoos and piercings, either, Will. Maybe we're just too, er, experienced in life for that? All I can think when I see them is how it's going to look when they get older--and whether they'll still like it then.

Rebecca: Too funny! And you're right--Russians are very into high fashion/couture and luxury goods. VERY.

Erin: Really? I've never seen it here in Houston, but I believe you!

June 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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