The Tooth Wars: UK vs US


What nation has the worst teeth? Ask around, and chances are a lot of people will say England. Or just Google “Nation with the worst teeth” and its likely (subject to the ever-changing whims of Google) that the first few entries will refer to British teeth.

But a new study comparing oral health in the US and England has revealed that American oral hygiene is no better than that of the Brits. The cause: a lack of affordable dental insurance in America.

According to the authors of the study, published in The British Medical Journal, the widespread belief that the English have terrible teeth dates back over a century. Blame movies (we’re looking at you, Austin Powers), blame toothpaste ads glorifying those big, white American smiles, blame whatever bit of popular culture you like. (Remember the Simpsons episode where the dentist terrified a young patient by showing him a copy of “The Big Book of British Smiles”?).

Apparently American and British smiles are equally “healthy” these days, which really isn’t great news for anyone.

Dental Insurance in America

Researchers from both the UK and the US used data from the English Adult Dental Health Survey (ADHS) and the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare oral health and assess educational levels and income-related oral health inequalities.

The study noted that while the UK and US both share similar political systems, the way the two countries fund and provide dental health care is very different.

People in the US tend to rely on dental insurance, dental savings plans or simply pay out of their own pocket for dental care, if they can afford to do so. In the UK, many people are likely to get their dental care through the National Health Service (NHS), the country’s publicly funded health insurance system. Dental care is not free for everyone under the NHS, but it is very affordable when compared to the costs for similar treatments in America.

Study participants included adults aged 25 years and older. For analysis by education, there were samples of 8,719 English adults and 9,786 American adults. For analysis by income, the sample included 7,184 English participants and 9,094 American adults.

Americans missing more teeth than English participants

The researchers reviewed benchmarks of oral health including whether the study participant was missing any teeth (and if so, how many). They asked people how they would describe their own oral health, and also inquired about the impact of oral health on the subject’s daily life, including whether they experienced oral pain/toothaches, whether they had difficulty in eating, if they avoided smiling, and other social effects.

And while the average number of missing teeth was higher in US participants than in English ones (an average of 7.31 vs. 6.97, respectively), the English participants reported more pain and also said they experienced more negative social impact from their dental problems.

The researchers felt that Americans are less likely to blame themselves for bad oral health as its understood that access to dental care differs sharply according to income in the US. In England, missing and decayed teeth were seen as more of a personal failing than an inability to afford proper care.

The dental visit stats back that up: 7 out of 10 British people see a dentist every year, only 4 out of ten Americans do the same.

Researchers did not that the study might be flawed as their analysis was limited solely to the number of missing teeth. They believe that aesthetic or orthodontic outcomes – the quality of care available in both countries – may be a potential area for a future study. (Though a study by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) found that “UK-based dentists say that their customers prefer a more ‘natural look’ than their American counterparts.”

If dental care doesn’t fit your budget, and traditional insurance doesn’t meet your needs, you should explore the advantages of dental savings plans. Get the details, and discover what plans are right for you by calling us at 1-800-238-5163 today.


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