Discussing the stereotype that Europeans have bad teeth…

Posted on 22.12.2011


I went back to my dentist today. Yes, she’s officially ‘my dentist’. The lady is awesome, fashionable, and she totally corrected a problem in a way that could have been MUCH more painful. I’m going to let it slide that she prefers to speak to me in English even when I answer her in German, because she’s still ‘new’.

Today she finished the root canal. It wasn’t ‘unfinished’ for a week, mind you, it was capped with a temporary cap and that was and is, apparently, how this stuff gets done over here.

So today after she finished the cap, she started packing up and talking about my next appointment, which SHOULD BE in January. And it is, I made the appointment. But it was at that point that I started to get concerned, because this was the second time I was seeing her, and no one had tried to or even mentioned cleaning my teeth.

Just to bring everyone up to speed, I was/am under the impression based on my last few dentists (in America) that one goes to the dentist every six months for a cleaning and a check-up. So the fact that I’d been to the dentist TWICE and hadn’t had a strange person/dental assistant floss my teeth for me was starting to get a little disconcerting. I assumed, of course, that the cleaning got skipped last time because I was in excruciating pain and they felt the need to solve that problem before telling me that I don’t floss enough.

So I was expecting to get a cleaning today. And that didn’t appear to be happening.

As she was getting ready to walk out of the room, I asked her if I could ask a question (and was thankfully not met with ‘you already have’). I prefaced the question by stating that she was my first dental experience in Germany, and that I wasn’t sure of how ‘going to the dentist’ works over here. Then I described to her my American experience, making sure to mention that we Americans with dental insurance get our teeth cleaned by professionals every six months. I then asked if that was how things worked over here.

She stifled a laugh. I am not even joking.

Then she went on to explain to me that most people here only visit the dentist once a year (the first shocker), since it’s required by the health insurance (second shocker) most of the time. Then she said (and I am not even joking) that at the yearly appointment, the dentist has a look at your hygiene practices and DECIDES if you need a cleaning or not. After this, she kind of shrugged and said ‘but most people know how to use a toothbrush, so we don’t have to clean people too often’.

I thanked her for explaining that to me and made my appointment for the end of next month.

As I was walking out, it struck me that, in comparison to what I just heard, the dentists and dental offices in the states seem like overbearing parents. I HATED being told by the dental assistant every time I saw her that I wasn’t flossing properly. I know how to floss, and maybe I just don’t like doing it, ok? I mean, who REALLY enjoys flossing? Quite honestly, the only time I remember to floss is when something so large is stuck in my teeth that it causes discomfort. I mean, yeah, sometimes I get into a habit and will floss every night before I go to bed, or in the middle of the days when I remember to eat lunch. But more often than not, I kind of skip ALL OF THAT before I go to bed because I am just too fucking tired to be bothered with washing my face, brushing my teeth and flossing.

(as a side note, having a nightly alarm that reminds me to do this has been a HUGE help, and it keeps me on top of my shots, too)

That being said, I’ve received more ‘your teeth are SO WHITE’ comments over here than I EVER got in the US. I wonder if that’s due to the lack of forced cleanings at the dentist over here? Are we just totally pampered in the US? Is that even something we’d consider pampering? Is this why there are so many jokes about the Europeans and their less than perfect dental records? It’s just a different practice, and allowing people to be responsible for their own whitey-whiteness? So are the teeth here in Germany a better example of the majority of people’s attitudes towards brushing and flossing? In America we just don’t see it so often because everyone’s getting their teeth cleaned by professionals so often?

I should note here that I haven’t spent the last two years really paying attention to my peers’ teeth. I notice when something is horribly wrong, which has happened a few times (but no more or less than when I was in the states), but I either haven’t been paying attention (true) or I haven’t seen a ton of bad examples (also true) that lead me to think that the stereotype is true. I can’t really tell where this stereotype about the Europeans and the bad teeth is coming from, to tell you the truth, but after hearing what my dentist said to me today, I think that if it IS true, then I got to hear about the cause? Maybe?

To me, if I think about it in terms of a story like ‘Hunger Games‘, it comes off as something weird that only frivolous idiots in the Capitol have done, to get their teeth cleaned by other people twice a year, because they can, like drinking a special champagne drink that’s designed to make you vomit, so you can eat more food afterwards.

I don’t know. I’m interested to see what my dentist says when I go back in a month. Will she tell me that I need to floss better? Or more? Or will she say something like ‘your teeth are really white and clean, keep up the good work’?

It all feels a little bit like design classes in college: if the teacher just looked at my project and told me it was good, I felt oddly cheated. We lived for the criticism. Nothing was EVER good enough, and if your teacher said that your project was, you thought they were having a bad day. Since coming to Germany, I’ve NOTICED that my teeth are no longer as white as they were in the US. I blame this on my sensitive teeth not allowing me to use whitening products, and a new, lax attitude towards Coke products.

I don’t even know what to think about this. Maybe I’ll have more thoughts on it at the end of January. Until then, I’ll be flossing. A lot.

Posted in: German Lessons