When I think of British stereotypes, I think of boring food, rainy days, and bad teeth. Stereotypes are sometimes (usually) based in fact and as an American, I know that the rest of the world thinks that we have excessively large cars, yards, hamburgers, and pretty much everything else is too big too (which is all true). So, I am not surprised when people make jokes about my SUV, our cowboy hats, crappy beer, and the fact that I have the nerve to complain about gas prices. I openly admit to these less than charming characteristics of Americans, and more openly, make fun of them mercilessly.
But back to making fun of my adopted country. All Britons will admit that the food is boring, but that doesn't mean it's not good. And yeah, it rains a lot here. In fact, it's raining now. But, it makes the grass green. So, take that.
I have recently discovered that most Britons I know don't know that they are mocked in other countries for having bad teeth. I don't know where it started, maybe something to do with their highly sweet candy bars, toothbrushes that are made of twigs, wooden dentures, and toothpaste that doubles as grout. No, I have no idea.
I don't know anyone here that is missing any essential teeth. Though I haven't met everyone. But, my most recent testament to British oral health began last night when I was eating peanuts and felt a strange pain in my mouth. When I checked it out in the mirror, I discovered that I had broken a tooth. This has never happened to me, so logically, I panicked. Sometimes in my life, stresses accumulate and then one catalyst event throws me into barely controlled (temporary) insanity.
Once I rinsed my mouth, examined the piece of tooth, did a panic dance, and shouted expletives for a few minutes, I called a friend of mine who could advise me on dentists. Everything I knew were all the things I didn't know. Where to find a dentist, do they exist here, how (dear Lord) much it might cost, could it be done in the next two weeks, do they do white fillings!? I knew it didn't make any sense to panic, but that didn't stop me. My fears were somewhat assuaged from his advice and by then I had all but decided that I could go without eating for the next six weeks. In recounting the story to my neighbor, I noticed that she didn't get it when I said “And, now I have to go to the dentist in a country with notoriously bad oral health! Ha Ha...It's funny right?”
I was already a big fan of the NHS here (if for no other reason than yellow ambulances), but I did know that dentistry wasn't covered in the national healthcare scheme. But it kind of is. I know now that a general visit costs about £20, a filling (or more) costs about £50 and anything more 'major' costs about £120. It turns out that x-rays, cleaning, fixing a broken tooth, and filling another one falls into the £50 category. That's a bargain! Seriously.
I called the office up at complete random, and got an appointment for the same day which I know will never, ever happen to me again. I assumed I'd have to wait for a week, then need a second appointment that would occur after I had already left the country. If anything could have delighted me about going to the dentist, knowing that it could all be sorted in one day was it.
Happily, the office was within walking distance and I just looked out for something with a sign that probably said something weird like 'Dental Surgery' or 'Torture Chamber.' I found it. For the record, it looked and smelled just like dentist offices (as we normals call them) at home.
I truly abhor seeing the dentist (which is probably what lead to my tooth breaking) and I find I had more anxiety about it than flying. Wearing my tinted safety goggles for 'health and safety,' with needles coming at me, whirring drills, and numb face, I literally thought to myself “Find your happy place!” Which was useful as it took me a few minutes to decide on one. The whole thing took about an hour and was pretty much exactly like any visit at home. I didn't get a sticker though. Which I really needed.
So, I'd like to bust the stereotype. I've met more Americans with visibly bad teeth than I have in the UK. England has dentists, and they do a good job. Although, no one in the office introduced themselves to me or seemed to notice that I was so freaked out. But that's okay. I think they were just proving another British stereotype.