By Angelica Bottaro

If you’ve been on any social media site lately—I’m looking at you, Instagram—you probably noticed all the ads for various products that can make your smile whiter, brighter, or straighter. From carbon toothpaste to invisible braces that you wear like a mouthguard, there is no shortage of products out there that can turn your teeth into glowing pictures of perfection. Having a good-looking smile isn’t some new trend, though. For many years, there have been countless dental procedures and products designed to give you the smile you want.

The aesthetics behind teeth has been a hot topic for centuries. Before the day and age of braces and Invisalign, whitening sticks and pens, people used to do other things to make their teeth appear better. Dentures, for example, have been around for a lot longer than you might think. People used to also file their teeth down in efforts to make them seem straighter and better aligned.

But why are white teeth considered more beautiful than those that have a little colour to them? And why are straight teeth more desirable to the masses than crooked teeth that stick out in various areas? 

The billions of dollars that the dental industry makes each year could have something to do with it. But is it being pushed upon us by money-hungry dental professionals, or are we just obsessed with perfect teeth because of what they represent?

Teeth Are A Sign Of Beauty

Many people ascribe to impossible beauty standards. From teeny tiny, almost alien-like waistlines to full lips that most aren’t born with, the societal beauty standards bombarding us today have changed drastically over the years and vary depending on geographical location. One such thing synonymous with beauty in all parts of the world is straight, white teeth. 

How did the world reach that consensus? 

According to the journal Sociology of Health & Illness, there are many reasons why straight, white teeth are considered the most beautiful. Here are a few:

Mass Media Influences: It uses our body image insecurities against us to sell new products. A company selling whitening toothpaste might use a well-loved celebrity with whiter than white teeth to subliminally tell people that their off-white or yellow teeth are just not good enough. The celeb is successful, so if you have pearly teeth, you might be too! Ummm. 

Colour Symbolism: Western societies have associated white with goodness, perfection, purity, and cleanliness. For example, a doctor’s white coat gives the idea that they’re healers. White wedding cake icing shows signified purity. It has even been associated with wealth since making white icing used to be something only the rich could afford. 

After England’s Queen Victoria wore white to her wedding, many affluent women chose white to emulate her. So, given that white has been societally accepted as clean, pure, and a sign of affluence, having white teeth must mean that you are all those things, right? 

Dental Health Issues

Aside from cosmetics, white and straight teeth have also been associated with good dental health. Certain health disorders can cause teeth to become yellow, decay, or even fall out altogether. Since good health is obviously essential, dental health is part of overall wellbeing. As people age, the teeth gradually lose their pearl-like shade, which pushes the message that white teeth are found in the young and youthful people of the world.

Crooked teeth can also be more challenging to care for, which leaves room for more dental issues such as cavities or gum disease. Because of these facts, straight and white teeth are associated with good health. Still, getting braces and whitening your teeth every six months isn’t the same as flossing twice a day and can’t turn back the hands of the ageing clock, though. So you could have a straight, brighter-than-white smile and have an unhealthy mouth. 

Treatment Is Affordable For Some But Not For Everyone

I don’t begrudge anyone for wanting their smile to truly shine. Heck, I’ve even whitened my teeth and thought about getting some invisible braces to have my smile looking just a little bit better. The problem is this: dentistry does not come cheap, especially cosmetic procedures. While some people may have the money to pay for all these things, others do not.

This disparity between the haves and have-nots is often shown to the world as soon as you open your mouth. While it’s vital to have good oral hygiene, not being able to afford aesthetic-only procedures should not signify you as less healthy than the rest of the world. Unfortunately, though, it does just that because of how society views straight, white teeth.

So, although the obsession with having perfectly aligned, pearl-coloured teeth isn’t entirely unfounded from a health standpoint, it’s a little rude to assume that those with minor imperfections or an off-white colour aren’t as beautiful as those that have teeth so bright they can blind you from across the room.