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English Teeth, English Teeth!
—Spike Milligan, "Teeth"
Brits in (usually American) media are commonly stereotyped as being completely indifferent to the physical appearance of their teeth. Expect much joshing by the pens of non-Brits at this, portraying British teeth as being a horrific monstrosity.
The reasoning behind this trope has its roots largely in cultural differences. In America having bad teeth is associated with being extremely poor - not being able to afford the dentist is like not being able to afford basic medical care. Thus there is an enormous cultural stigma to not having perfect teeth.
In Britain, on the other hand, for various reasons there is no such class stigma. Indeed the reverse seems to be true, having one's teeth straightened being seen as a form of vanity similar to (say) a balding man getting hair plugs. It may also be related to the fact that if you're on the NHS, good dental care has much less of an association with money.
Another big difference is the actual functions carried out by dentists on either side of the Atlantic - whereas American dentists (and British private dentists, for that matter) are only too happy to carry out cosmetic improvements for the right price, British NHS dentists only concern themselves with preventing the teeth from actually falling out or causing pain and very rarely perform any sort of cosmetic surgery. But braces are freely available to all under 16, so crooked teeth are rare to see. And it has been pointed out that dentistry is the only part of the socialised healthcare system where the British people are expected to pay the costs of at least some of the work - NHS dental charges are not exactly cheap and many dentists will seek to make a profit on them by doing the absolute minimum they can get away with. (This has been the topic of several investigative TV documentaries). British people therefore tend to resent having to pay anything at all, when all other parts of the NHS are practically free, and laught at the idea of going privte and actually paying for American-style vanity treatments.
There is also one dimension with a strictly historical aspect: Britain was one of the first European countries to have access to large(r) quantities of sugar. Visitors in the time of The Virgin Queen sometimes noted that British nobles had truly awful teeth due to their love of sugar (and of course, this was prior to modern dental practice or dietary concerns). The lower classes couldn't afford it at the time, and indeed their teeth were better off for it.
In fact, a 2009 study by the OECD found the UK to have some of the industrialized world's better dental health (actually ahead of the United States by a fair margin). The BBC has a fairly accurate overview of the situation and varying attitudes on both sides of the pond. It basically boils down to the British feeling that having teeth be a little crooked or off color just adds character, whereas perfectly white straight teeth are a little too perfect, if not outright creepy.
It's possible that since the British create a lot more Period Dramas than America (most of which take place before modern dentistry), the British feel that having row after row of Eternally Pearly-White Teeth would border on Anachronism Stew after a while.
For actors having a gleaming smile no matter what kind of character they are playing, see Eternally Pearly-White Teeth.
- An ad for BBC America had an animated queen claiming that various British stereotypes aren't true (including the teeth one), but then having them happen in the background once she turns her head. "They say One's dentistry is diabolical, looks fine to me."
- The Austin Powers films pull a few jokes of this nature on the titular spy, who has atrocious teeth. This is in part to show how times have changed since the 1960's, when straight teeth weren't as highly prized, and also furthers the point that it's Austin's personality that makes him attractive, not his looks. He does some dental work before the first movie ends. But in the following movie, they revert to being horrible when Austin time travels.
- The two English pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean qualify. Apparently everyone else who spent months at a time on a ship in the Caribbean had access to a really good dentist. Of course, most of characters in the films are English so maybe it was just a part of those two pirates' character.
- Lampshaded and inverted in A Good Year when Max observes that Christie must be American because of her perfect teeth.
- Shanghai Knights: Owen Wilson's character flirts with a pretty young English damsel, only for her to smile and send him running from her moldy choppers.
- Richie Rich: Richie's English butler, Cadbury, has really sensitive teeth.
- Played with in Across the Universe, when Jude, a Brit, notes of the American Lucy, "My god -- you have perfect teeth!", tells her that people back home have horrible teeth, and feigns not knowing what braces are.
- Seems to come up in The Count of Monte Cristo. Despite rotting in prison for over a decade, Dantes/The Count has perfect, white teeth, but in his persona as English aristocrat Lord Wilmore, wears a fake jaw/teeth which are the opposite of this.
- In an Adrian Mole book, Adrian's Australian dentist comments on how bad British people's teeth are.
- Torchwood lampshades this stereotype with Captain Jack Harkness saying, "You want scary? Compare teeth with a British guy."
- A good example of the inverse British attitude is seen in Top Gear, in which Richard Hammond strenuously denies having had his teeth whitened (which is implied to be a decidedly Metrosexual thing to do).
- Then again, he's also poked fun quite a bit at Jeremy Clarkson's obviously yellowing teeth.
- John Oliver is the butt of these jokes in Community.
Professor Chang: Shut your gaping vortex of overlapping fangs!
- Stephen Fry and Craig Ferguson discussed this, with Stephen doubting Craig was even British because his teeth looked so good and Craig commenting that they were mostly his but that things had been done to them when he passed through immigration.
- Peter Capaldi (who was also speaking with Craig Ferguson) once referred to The Thick of It as "The West Wing with bad teeth and swearing."
- On Thirty Rock, trying to lighten the tension on an awkward date, Liz jokes about this to a British man she met in the orthodontist's office. He's never heard the stereotype before and is offended. It's Liz Lemon, what do you expect?
- An old SNL episode had a "commercial" with Mike Myers playing the pitchman for "Hedley & Wyche, the British toothpaste." Each tube contains two teaspoons of pure cane sugar, for a smile that says, "Yum! That was good."
Chris Farley: And it tastes great on a cracker!
Narrator: Boys and girls from England...
- Bradley James (Arthur in Merlin) has crooked teeth. Note that this does not stop his status as an Mr. Fanservice.
- Comes up every so often in Whose Line Is It Anyway. Both versions, thanks to the recurring American cast members in both. One example from Scenes From a Hat:
Drew Carey: "The shortest book ever written."
- Rare non-British example: Yasuka Saito, who played Masumi Inou/BoukenBlack from Go Go Sentai Boukenger has prominently crooked teeth which gained memetic joke status among the fandom.
- Similarly, fellow cast member Mami Yamasaki (who played perky ninja villainess Kaze no Shizuka in the same series) has them too, but they don't appear much doe to being on the lower part of her mouth, so it can only be seen up close (like in her introductory episode).
- Arrested Development: Slightly different take as George Sr. describes the British as having bad breath. Played straight as referenced by a pub called "The Crooked Fang".
- Cracked did a list of severely incorrect stereotypes, with #3 being this trope. Which linked to us. Hi, Cracked!
- "The Stereotypes Song" mentions "the crookedass teeth of an English dude" as an example.
- In one episode of The Simpsons, a dentist terrifies Ralph Wiggum into healthy dental habits by showing him a book called "The Big Book of British Smiles".
- This happens to nearly the whole cast in an episode of The Fairly Oddparents when Timmy accidentally prevents the Revolutionary War from happening and causes the USA to remain English colonies.
- In South Park episode "The Snuke" when America gets invaded by Britain, the British army (decked out in Redcoats of course) have noticeably terrible teeth.
- Just about every British character who appears on Family Guy. They re-use jokes a lot, so expect to see it often.
- In the Sealab 2021 episode "Let 'Em Eat Corn", Captain Shanks gets his hands on some nukes from two British guys in exchange for paying to have their dreadful teeth fixed.
- Both Murdoc and 2D of Gorillaz fame have some pretty messed up mouths, although both their cases are justified. 2D was hit by a car and lost several teeth, (not to mention bruising his eyes,) as a result; Murdoc just has hideous hygiene standards all around and clearly never bothered to take care of his teeth. Of course, their creators are British, so it's understandable that they didn't want to play into the stereotype.
- British Kyle of Fanboy and Chum Chum has large buck teeth as well as braces. Though it's not as if the non-British titular duo has perfect teeth...
- Futurama, "All the Presidents' Heads":
Bender: Say, how is it that we've got socialized medicine [shows missing teeth] but me teeth still loo' like this?
- Brit Kate Moss has crooked teeth despite being a supermodel.
- Keira Knightley is proud of having "teeth with character".