Scary dentist

Just how bad are dentists in Britain?

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American blogger John finds there’s some truth behind the joke that Brits suffer from poor dental hygiene, but perhaps it’s no laughing matter.

I was checking out the BBC's website the other day and came across this article with the following headline.

'Girl starved to death after op'

So in my head I say "Wow, that is odd. What kind of medical procedure could she have had performed on her that would lead to her starving to death?" You would in my opinion be likely to ask yourself the same question upon reading it as I.

So I look to the first paragraph under the headline and it reads as follows.

'An eight-year-old girl starved to death at home because she refused to open her mouth after a dental operation, an inquest heard.'

Huh?? A dental operation?? Really?!

Now if you are to read the entire article you will read that she had such a fear of dentists that it was decided for her that she would be put under general anesthesia (i.e., put to sleep temporarily) so that they could remove eight baby teeth or, as they are called here in the UK, her 'milk teeth'.

So, just how bad do dentists in this country have to be for someone to get to this level of fear of them? Granted, it could have been all in the little girl's head. My brother bit the hand of a dentist when he was about five like some rabid dog when the dentist was trying to inject him with novacaine. But I really don't think this is the case

Why, you ask? Well, because Britain has quite the reputation for extremely poor dental hygiene. To the point that it has become a long running joke amongst Americans.
The Big Book of British SmilesFrom Austin Powers to that famous episode of the Simpsons where Lisa goes to the orthodontist to get braces and is shown the 'The Big Book of British Smiles' to instill fear. And I am here to confirm that this is a joke that has ample proof, and to show that it based on reality. I have seen too many British people, normal good-looking people who open their mouth to speak and make you feel nervous that you are focusing your gaze solely on their crooked and stained fangs.
It really makes you wonder why so many people here do not utilise the dentistry service that is available in this country. Particularly since a large part of it is free on what is part of their social National Health Service, also known as the NHS.

Well perhaps that is the problem. The NHS covers almost all aspects that fall under health, from the optician to the doctor and the dentist. There is one large difference though between these three aspects of health I just mentioned.

While the doctors remain a fully socialised and free service for all legal residents, a decision was made about 20 years ago to privatise other aspects of the NHS such as opticians and—yes, you guessed it!—dentists. They now had the option to remain under the NHS umbrella or remove it from themselves and be a fully private business.
NHS Not For Sale logo

It didn't take dentists long to figure out that, by removing the 'shackles' of the NHS, they could charge whatever they wanted to for a procedure. There was then a mass exodus from the system by dentists and it is now a broken system. This article from the BBC says that "over 300,000 people lost their dentist in three months" and that "900,000 fewer people are now seeing an NHS dentist than before government reforms, figures show."

Clearly government intervention has not worked to help the state of the poor British publics molars and incisors. Boy am I glad good teeth run in my family...

John is an American in his late 20’s who resides in Birmingham, England. He is married and has three children. John grew up in the Boston metro area and left America for good when he was 18 years old on April 8 1999. Read more from him at his blog 10 Years and Running.

Originally published on 10 February 2009.
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3 Comments To This Article

  • Ana posted:

    on 1st May 2014, 19:17:17 - Reply

    IT's all about finding a good dentist.
    I'm happy with my dentist. He's great and offers private treatment on the NHS, in Birmingham
    Check him out here: and ask for Dr Dhody
  • David posted:

    on 2nd October 2012, 19:18:41 - Reply

    Unfortunately most people in Britain don't realize just how poor dentistry is in the UK in comparison to other (often much poorer or considered much less developed) countries. In part it is certainly since dentists got the idea they could now give poor/negligible treatment on the NHS and start charging among the highest prices in the world for private treatment, In part there seems to be a lack of ability/knowledge in the UK. Most of my friends here are from abroad and there is a general dread of going near a British dentist (unfortunately well founded). I was sent by one dentist (recently formed and less cynical than most - unfortunately she soon moved on) to the dental hospital where the 'Head surgeon' gave advise which with, in about 5 mins of checking on the internet, my suspicions as to its value were confirmed. My dentist (by then now the next replacement at the practice) made some embarrassed excuses as she realized the nonsense she received back from the hospital. So that's the standard here I'm afraid. I could go on all day listing nightmares faced by friends and others at the hands of dentists here. Unfortunately the only answer is - if you can go elsewhere (unfortunately most of us can't) do it !
  • planetearth posted:

    on 29th August 2010, 10:13:23 - Reply

    NHS dentistry was fine 'back in the day' (i got free NHS braces in the 1970s) but now with so many technological improvements in dentistry what is offered is a very basic service and most NHS dentists are newly qualified or overseas trained. The UK trained ones do however at least give a very high priority to anaesthesia = comfortable care (unlike some other EU countries) but too many NHS dentists think recession is a normal sign of ageing and don't have a hygienist. The main issue is the low priority given to cleanings...for the rest the unwillingness to intervene unnecessarily is probably a good thing. Far too many people in USA get their wisdom teeth removed unnecessarily before they fall off their parents' insurance.