Where has the obsession with having a perfectly straight, bright, white smile come from? North American media is particularly obsessed with this idea, but how much of an impact does it really have on daily interactions and real people?
To understand this, you need to break down everything tooth-related to understand the cultural importance of that perfect smile.
How much of an Impact Do Teeth really have?
Teeth can have a surprisingly significant impact on the way an individual is perceived. According to Macleod Trail Dental, “Dental issues or imperfections can negatively impact your image.” They also state that “A healthy and beautiful smile translates to greater confidence” as demonstrated in a 2008 study where 180 female participants were shown six images of men and women whose teeth were either unmodified, decayed, or whitened. The participants were then asked to make judgments on social competence, intellectual ability, psychological adjustment, and relationship satisfaction. The results found that decayed dental appearance created more negative judgments in all four categories, while whitening teeth produced the opposite effect.
Where did these Perceptions Come From?
There are many connections between the appearance of one’s teeth and their overall physical wellbeing. For example, tooth decay can be caused by many different health issues such as metabolic diseases, systemic conditions, aging, and staining. Misaligned teeth can result in issues with cleaning, making them more likely to lead to dental caries, swollen gums, and periodontal disease. Since teeth darken gradually over time, whiter teeth are often associated with youthfulness which has a significant correlation with perceptions of attractiveness. The connection between oral appearance and physical health and vitality certainly shows the need for personal care and high-quality dentistry that you can trust to guide your dental decision-making.
Health is certainly a strong motivation behind the desire for the perfect smile; however, this connection has become more disparate through the propagation of mass media advertising and celebrity spokespeople. A perfect set of teeth has become not simply a sign of physical wellbeing, but a social commodity. It is natural that the country with the largest mass media industry (the USA) also demonstrates caring about the whiteness of teeth the most.
Why do Americans Love the Perfect Smile?
When comparing America to other wealthy nations, the value each culture places on the Hollywood smile is striking. For example, Japanese men consider Yaeba, or ‘snaggletooth’ as it is known in the US, as an endearing and youthful quality in women. Whereas in America, despite partial-to-no orthodontic cover by North American insurance providers, paying for braces is a common investment associated with raising children.
The ideal American smile began as a result of the boom of the dental industry brought on by the post-war rising middle class. Dentistry became organized by the need to ensure draftees with poor oral health were fit for service, transforming the reputations of dentists into medical practitioners. This led to a rate of growth in the dental industry that was faster than that of the American economy. With this boom came the creation of dental ‘norms’ and ‘ideals’ that were quickly taken on by carious socialization agents outside the dental office, allowing teeth to become a symbol of both physical health and social status.
Taking care of one’s teeth at home and visiting a high-quality dentist is, of course, an essential part of maintaining optimum health. However, being more informed about the particularly American beauty ideal can help to guide a healthier relationship with teeth that can boost your confidence both internally and socially.