10/31/2011 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2011

'Do the British Really Have Bad Teeth?' and Other Teeth Myths

I was asked the other day why the English people had bad teeth. Like you, I have definitely heard the stereotype, but as an NYC cosmetic dentist, I pretty much ignored it.

However, the question piqued my curiosity, and I'm always on the lookout for new blog fodder, so I sat down one night and looked at that stereotype (and came up with a few others as well). Here are my findings on a few "dental myths."

The English have bad teeth.

In speaking with some colleagues across the pond, combined with my general knowledge and a little research, I have concluded that the English do not have worse teeth than anywhere else. However, I feel there are a few reasons why this stereotype has flourished. One reason is England dominated the world until the 19th century, so they were prolific. Being prolific gets you noticed. And one common thread in the entire world was nobody had good teeth until modern dentistry. So, you had centuries of bad teeth, and one country is really prolific during that time... seems like a good birthplace for a stereotype, huh?

One thing I did find in my research is a general feeling that Brits are not as obsessed with perfect teeth like Americans are. Here's a quick article on how some stars view their teeth and the so-called "dental divide." So maybe the British just don't put as much emphasis on the "movie star smile" like Americans do. Also, there does seem to be a shortage of dentists in Britain (this article is a few years old -- my colleagues tell me things aren't much different).

Dracula (or, more precisely, Vlad the Impaler) had fangs.

We all know the modern vampire sprang from the legends of Vald the Impaler. But did ol' Vlad have fangs? To be honest, probably not. In fact, in all of my research, I could not find one account of Vlad having anything resembling fangs. Mean guy, for sure, but fangs? Doesn't seem likely. Here's some interesting information on Vlad.

Of course, as I researched, I wondered where the "fang thing" in vampires came from. The first mention of "fangs" that I could find is a serialized story published in 1847. The story is named "Varney the Vampyre" and is attributed to Thomas Peckett Prest and/or James Malcolm Rymer (nobody is sure who exactly wrote it, as it was originally published anonymously). Here's a passage from it which, from what I could find, is the first appearance of "fangs" on a vampire:

The figure turns half round, and the light falls upon its face. It is perfectly white -- perfectly bloodless. The eyes look like polished tin; the lips are drawn back, and the principal feature next to those dreadful eyes is the teeth -- the fearful looking teeth -- projecting like those of some wild animal, hideously, glaringly white, and fang-like. It approaches the bed with a strange, gliding movement. It clashes together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends. No sound comes from its lips. Is she going mad -- that young and beautiful girl exposed to so much terror? She has drawn up all her limbs; she cannot even now say 'help.' The power of articulation is gone, but the power of movement has returned to her; she can draw herself slowly along to the other side of the bed from that towards which the hideous appearance is coming.

Nice imagery, huh? You can read the entire work at project Gutenberg here.
One more thing about the fangs -- it seems some people are having this done for real (permanently). My opinion on this is a big "No" -- if you want to play vampire, just buy the plastic fangs at the costume shop.

George Washington had wooden teeth.

A common myth is that our first president had wooden teeth. There are a few "legends" about George, and most of them are false, including the wooden teeth one. While it's true that George Washington (like many people of his day) had all kinds of tooth problems, his false teeth were actually much cruder than wood. He had some cow's teeth, one made of ivory with metal and springs (ouch). It's very likely his teeth were an issue, leading to us being fascinated (well, not really) over what kind of false teeth he had.

All dentists drive sports cars.

Ok, this one came out of left field for me, but then again, I'm a dentist, so I'm on the inside looking out... is this really a stereotype? In looking online a bit, it actually is. Ok, for the record, I drive an Audi, and I really don't consider my ride a "sports car" (not the midlife crisis type, anyway.) But it does seem there is some truth to this stereotype, at least according to Obviously, that's hardly a scientific study, but I thought it a fun little tidbit to include at the end of this article. Maybe I should go price Porsches! (Nah -- the budget isn't allowing for that.)

Until next time, keep smiling!