Why the Grand National revealed the ugly truth about British teeth

After Saturday's Grand National, shown live on BBC1, many viewers wrote to the Corporation to complain about presenter Clare Balding's jibes to winning jockey Liam Treadwell.

Liam, aged 23, rode 100-1 shot Mon Mome to victory in the Grand National in Liverpool on Saturday, the biggest outsider to win the world's greatest horse race since Foinavon in 1967.

But whilst being interviewed on live television by Balding, Treadwell kept hiding his mouth. But when Balding told Treadwell to show us his smile, he did just that, causing Balding to make disparaging comments about his teeth.

“He hasn't got the best teeth in the world,” she said. “But you can afford to go and get them done now if you like.”

As a result, viewers wrote in complaining about Balding's bad matters towards a jockey who has just won the Grand National.

One viewer even said that Balding is no oil painting herself and looks as though she may run in next year's Grand National!

But what is it about the British and their teeth (bear in mind that some British dentists perform fillings without the use of anaesthetic)?

If you look at Americans, they all seem to have pearly white teeth (yet America is the land of fake body parts).

Even Hollywood movies sometimes look absurd because actors and actresses have pearly white teeth even if the character they are playing lived in the Middle Ages, before the advent of modern dentistry (That Other Boleyn Girl is a fine example).

Maybe the British just aren't as vain as the Yanks, and maybe we are fortunate we don't spend our teenage years looking as though we are vomiting coathangers.

The ugly truth about British teeth

After Clare Balding teases a jockey about the state of his laughing gear, we gets our teeth into the issue of a very British tooth

Hugo Rifkind
Tuesday 7th April 2009
The Times

I wonder if the jockey Liam Treadwell knew that he had bad teeth, before Clare Balding mentioned it. “He hasn't got the best teeth in the world,” she burbled to the little fellow, and to anybody else watching the Grand National on Saturday.

“But you can afford to go and get them done now if you like.” Treadwell looked shocked. Maybe he was embarrassed. But maybe he just didn't know. Often, British men just don't. Hence Austin Powers. We Brits are fortunate in that we don't spend our teenage years looking as if we're vomiting coathangers, but unfortunate in that we end up looking like, well, Brits. Pre-globilisation, this probably didn't matter much. Before anybody had seen Friends, nobody cared if you had a mouth filled with what looked like the broken ends of lollipop sticks. As a teenager, my most promiscuous friend had a middle tooth. True story. Outside of countries that were suffering actual famines, only Brits would stand for this sort of thing.

Jockey Liam Treadwell, who had just won the Grand National riding Mon Mome, covers his face to hide his smile on Saturday

Pressed by BBC reporter Clare Balding, he shows his teeth

Balding says he can afford to get them done with his prize money

The established caricature of Tony Blair - all beaming perfect teeth in a huge smile - probably makes no sense at all if you come from anywhere else. Blair's teeth are appalling. The more stressed he got towards the end, the more that one, tricky posterior tooth seemed to recede back into his mouth. Kate Moss, likewise, can only be considered one of the most desirable women in the world until she opens her mouth. It's grisly in there. Like King's Cross in the middle of the night.

Only in Britain are too-perfect teeth considered sinister. The point at which Cheryl Cole got her teeth sorted out, clearly, was the point at which the chaps from Stepford took possession of her soul. Simon Cowell and Esther Rantzen both have teeth so well-tended that they are actually terrifying.

Hollywood is littered with films rendered absurd because the actors have teeth that are far too good for their roles. Christian Slater as a medieval monk (The Name of the Rose). Mel Gibson as William Wallace (Braveheart). Hilary Swank as an actual, honest-to-God boxer (Million Dollar Baby).

In America, nobody notices that this is a problem, because nobody remembers that bad teeth even exist. And, some day soon, we'll be just the same. When I was younger, dentists used to tell me, quite approvingly, that I had teeth like Madonna.

These days they sniff, and ask why I never had a brace. Clare Balding is a sports journalist, for God's sake. They're officially the least fashionable people this side of Alan Partridge. Truly, Britain has changed.

We Americans are whiter than white

Zoe Strimpel

I grew up in the States, coming of age tooth-wise in a seaside town north of Boston. It was around 7th grade (year 8 in Britain ) that the metal really started.

By then, you were in the tiny minority if you weren't wired up to some sort of contraption, instilling your orthodontic values firmly and forever. This was largely down to the mad amounts of pain and inconvenience caused by braces, and the fact that everyone had them.

But the result is that all my school chums now have uniformly perfect teeth. We all still go to the hygienist at least every six months for a vigorous clean. The dentist is a normal part of our personal upkeep. And we love smiling for pictures.

Soon after I came to the UK to university, I began looking for a dentist for my regular cleanings. I'd assumed it wouldn't be so different from asking where the best local Chinese food was or, for that matter, a GP. Instead, I was shocked to discover that either people told a horror story of that time ten years ago when they lost a tooth in a riding accident and had to go the dentist, or they just looked blank. I discovered that most people here haven't been to the dentist for years - and cheerfully admit to it. To me, that's like saying you don't use computers, or you boil your water over an open fire and use outdoor toilets.

The proof is in the pudding: British teeth are so riddled with over and underbites, crowding, swollen gums, discolouration and erratic spacing that, for self-preservation, I have stopped looking too closely at British mouths.

Still, occasionally I am overcome, such as at the recent dinner party with my boyfriend's colleagues. I couldn't take my eyes off one well-spoken, well-dressed man - his mouth had imploded, leaving him with an underbite so drastic his jaw was permanently jutting out. I couldn't believe this was possible in someone under 30, who had grown up in London in the 20th century. It was all I could do not to scream over the table: “Why oh why didn't your parents get you braces?”

The fierceness and commitment with which we American kids were made to spend our youths in disfiguring, tongue-slicing metal is also bewildering. But at the end of the day, I think we've come on top, at least when it comes to saying cheese.


The blindingly-white and perfectly straight teeth of many people in the US seem as false as the ubiquitous "have a nice day". Is it any surprise that Brits going to US dentists for the first time are made to feel ashamed - the dentist is going to make huge sums of money out of it.

Stephen, Steyning, West Sussex

I was surprised to see "mortgage or dentist" in one of the comments. Most in Canada go every six months for a cleaning and a check-up. It is part of normal hygiene. A friend said her memory of London was ladies with buck teeth pushing prams. Bad British teeth are a stereotype.

E. Fraser, Toronto, Canada

British dental work is appallingly expensive. I have been quoted over £3000 just to have 4 crowns to replace fillings which are crumbling, a bit of cleaning and whitening-I can't afford that. Why are we so hung up on perfect teeth anyway? Vanity, vanity! Just age gracefully.

Caroline, Manchester, UK

I just recently married my wife who lives in Northern Virginia. She said this notion of "British teeth" is absurd and if people realised the real state of US health care they would be in for a shock. Lets not forget that you pay for everything in the States. It's not as green as you think....

stuart, Thurock, UK

For Brits, I think it may be considered style over substance; but there are very good health reasons for not letting teeth rot. Brain tumours and heart disease (yes, it's true) to start. A little care when young can save years of pain and expense later. We are stuck in 50's dentistry in Britain.

keith, London, UK

I moved to Canada thirty years ago. On my first visit to a very good dentist in Toronto he looked into my mouth and then invited all of his staff to look at my 'medieval' front false tooth held in place with a gold bar that travelled across the roof of my mouth, attached to a gold filling.

Malcolm Cross (British expat), Toronto, Canada

I am British now living in America, I go to the Dentist every 3 months for cleaning, I have had them bleached, crowned and veneered, i will never forget the first dentist I visited in the USA I truly felt humiliated and had to immediately do something with my mouth!!!!

Thomas Ellison, Palm Beach, United States

Last edited by Blackleaf; Apr 8th, 2009 at 01:28 PM..
I watched the race and the interview afterwards. I couldn't believe how rude she was. It sure put a cloud over the great win, for the jockey...
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