No Austin Powers In England: Americans' Oral Health Isn't Actually Better Than The English

Tooth brush
Americans don't have better teeth than the English, a new study finds. David Street, CC BY-ND 2.0

When it comes to teeth, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the English aren’t as bad as stereotyped.

In fact, according to a new study published in The BMJ Wednesday, their teeth are actually slightly better than those of their one-time subjects across the Atlantic. Analyzing data from two large national surveys of the UK and US, respectively, the researchers found that Americans had a slight but real edge in the number of missing teeth, while English citizens reported their oral health had a slightly more negative impact on their lives. To break the tie, the level of inequality in dental health was significantly wider in the States when accounting for either income or education.

“Contrary to popular belief, our study showed that the oral health of US citizens is not better than the English,” the authors concluded.

To determine the winner of the teeth contest, the researchers unpacked information from the UK’s English Adult Dental Health Survey (ADHS), and the US’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). To better account for educational status. they then further singled in on adults over the age of 25, ultimately ending up with a sample of 8,719 UK adults and 9,786 US adults whose educational status was known. A subsequent analysis that also accounted for income left them with 7,184 and 9,094 adults respectively.

Because the ADHS and NHANES both have a select proportion of volunteers undergo clinical examinations, the authors were able to compare their oral health subjectively and objectively. Though the average number of missing teeth was significantly higher among Americans (7.31 vs 6.97), there was no noticable difference in self-reported oral health. That didn’t stop the English from feeling their oral health was more negatively impactful on their lives.

Perhaps the most glaring difference between the two countries, though, was in the varying degrees of dental health among the haves and have-nots. “Adults in the lowest socioeconomic position tended to have better oral health in England, while those at the top educational or income levels were generally better in the US,” the authors found.

Though both countries have problems with health inequality, the authors believe the nationalized health care system of the UK might allow for less unbalanced dental outcomes — a belief bored out by their findings.

“Relative and absolute measures of oral health inequalities were consistently higher in the US, especially for self rated oral health,” they wrote.

In other words, rather than mocking the English for bad teeth, it’s likely we Americans should be looking in the mirror and asking why we can’t take better care of our own.

Source: Guarnizo-Herreño C, Tsakos, G, Sheiham A, et al. Austin Powers bites back: a cross sectional comparison of US and English national oral health surveys. The BMJ. 2015.

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