Bad British teeth on the box again, yet spending’s up 27%


The idea that Brits love having terrible teeth shows no signs of dying.

In fact, TV doctor Chris van Tulleken is doing his bit to hammer bad British teeth further into our collective conscious with The Truth About Your Teeth on Thursday 4 and 11 June, BBC One at 9pm.

He says British dental standards are globally infamous and having “brown, foul teeth doesn’t really bother us”, BBC News Magazine reports.

The facts say something else though. UK private spending on improving teeth reached £1.86bn last year, according to the market research group Mintel, up 27 per cent since 2010.

It’s true many of us don’t want a flashy Simon Cowell-style smile though, as just three per cent of people in the UK have had teeth-whitening work, lagging behind the 14 per cent in the US, it says.

But there’s little sign of the complacency van Tulleken describes, with three in 10 UK adults unhappy about the appearance of their teeth, Mintel adds.

Taken on pure oral health rather than appearance, the UK actually does better than the US. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) figures, the average number of missing or filled teeth for a 12-year-old in the UK in 2008 (the latest figures available) was 0.7. This was the joint best rating that year. The last figure reported by the OECD for the US, in 2004, was 1.3 – when the UK also got 0.7.

The UK’s decay and replacement rates started falling below those of the US during the mid-1990s. Going back to 1963, the UK rate was as high as 5.6.

The image of British teeth being so bad might have had some truth once. Only six per cent of UK adults have no natural teeth, the British Dental Association says. In 1978, the figure was as high as 37 per cent in Wales.

And people in the UK are among the most likely in Europe (72 per cent) to attend dental surgeries, second only to those in the Netherlands (79 per cent), the BDA says. Meanwhile, two in three children aged 12 are now found to be free of visible dental decay, compared with fewer than one in 10 in 1973.

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