Small Differences: Dentistry

There are two stereotypes about teeth that we all know: Americans have big, wide mouthed smiles; British people have wonky teeth.  Studies show that there is no real difference in oral health and hygiene between Britain and America but the perception of vastly different aesthetics remains.

I have lived in America for almost four years now and still every time I visit the dentist for a check up I imagine the dentist recoiling in horror when I open my mouth and reveal my ever so British teeth.  Truth be told, my teeth are pretty skew-whiff even by British standards – perfectly healthy but very crowded and crooked.  Compared to my American peers, however, they are a complete and utter mess.  The first time the dental nurse at our American practice looked in my mouth, she asked me if I was British or Russian.  It was that obvious that my mouth was not tended to by American dentists.  I never felt self-conscious about my teeth back home in Scotland but here in America I most definitely do.  Cosmetically pristine teeth are clearly valued here and mine don’t pass muster.  I may have made it to the age of 41 and have only one filling but that doesn’t mitigate against the visual mayhem of my mouth.

I think the key to the different dental experiences may be in a different approach between the two cultures.  I cannot compare US dentistry to private dental care in the UK because I have never been to a private dentist.  For the five years when I malingered on the waiting list of an National Health Service dentist, I never had an oral emergency that compelled me to seek out a dentist and pay private fees for the privilege.  Throughout my childhood and all but those five years of my adulthood in Britain, I was treated on the NHS.  This means my dental treatment was heavily subsidised (great for the budget) but it also means that the appointments were pretty perfunctory.  In contrast, my US appointments last for an interminable amount of time even though all I am having is a check up and routine cleaning.  The hygienist actually performs the bulk of the treatment.  This involves lots of ponderous poking and prodding and then a professional cleaning that lasts so long I have to stave off panic attacks.  Only after that marathon is completed does the dentist appear to look over any xrays and give my gob a final, brief once over.

Every single time I go to my check up, either the hygienist or the dentist – and sometimes both – will comment on the overcrowding in my mouth.  It is as if they find it grimly fascinating to contemplate the abyss that is my British mouth.  My teeth are not straight, they overlap, and my lower wisdom teeth came in at right angles to my other molars (though to be fair my UK dentists always found that weird too).  Even the dental hygienist, an expert flosser, has occasionally trapped a piece of floss between my teeth because there is so little space between them.  When I first moved here, the inevitable follow up question was whether I had ever considered orthodontistry.  You can probably imagine their looks of surprise when I tell them that I had a mouth full of metal for almost six of my teenage years.  I don’t think they can comprehend that the mangled mouth they see wide open before them actually represents an improvement on what was there before.  I decline each time the subject is raised.  I have lived with my wonky teeth for enough decades now that I can just accept that this is how they are.  I have endured braces for enough years of my life and don’t need a redux.  Besides, I have to shell out a whole heap of dollars on my kids’ orthodontisty.

Sadly, yes, at least two of my children have inherited my British mouth.  Apparently I have a tiny jaw, especially the mandible, and I have transmitted that “defect” to two of my offspring.  My 10 year old is already in braces because, aside from the crowding, he also had a dramatic crossbite, and my youngest will start orthodontic treatment as soon as he has a couple more adult teeth.  In addition to all of the metal and wire work in his mouth, it has been mentioned that my 10 year old may need to have some teeth pulled to create space and will need a palate expander.  That aspect of the treatment diverges from my experience of having orthodontisry in 1980s and early ’90s Scotland.  I had no teeth pulled and certainly didn’t have my palate expanded which, therefore, means that no extra space was ever created in my apparently minuscule jaw for the relocated teeth to move into.  So, while the six years worth of metalwork pulled everything into line, as soon as all of those devices were removed, my teeth simply began to drift back – especially once my wisdom teeth came in when I was in my mid-20s.

Even with very good dental insurance, the out of pocket cost for the orthodontistry is a major expense.  Multiplied by two kids, that expense becomes eye wateringly winceable.  They need the treatment for physical reasons, not just cosmetic ones, but I also think it is important to their self-esteem that they have winning smiles that fit in here rather than having my experience of people looking quizzically at teeth that look like collapsed tombstones in a long abandoned cemetery.  I am, therefore, going to stick with my awfully British teeth so that my children’s mouths can evolve to become more American.

A Nice Cup of Tea

It’s a stereotype that British people love tea.  I am not sure whether this is considered xenophobic or not since I think of the stereotype as being rather fond rather than malicious or snarky.  I must confess that I have found it to be true that the British treat tea as if it is nectar and I hold my hands up to being one of those that thinks of tea as being fitting for any occasion.

When a visitor comes to my house, I always offer them tea or coffee.  I like it when they choose tea because I am not a coffee drinker – indeed, I absolutely loathe coffee or coffee-flavoured anything – so it means I can make a pot of tea rather than making a single cuppa in a mug.  I start my day – and often end it too – with a cosy cup of tea.  Days when I don’t have a cup of tea at the start of the day are often a bit pants.  When I am feeling a bit under the weather I drink tea with lemon in it or some green tea.  It’s a complete placebo, I’m certain, but it always makes me feel a bit better.  In fact, every single time I delivered a baby, the first thing the midwives offered me was buttered toast and a steaming cup of tea.  After labouring for 56 hours, never has a cuppa seemed more like liquid manna in the wilderness.  If someone is experiencing a bit of a crisis, I automatically pop the kettle on because everything seems better with a cup of tea and just the action of sipping it and feeling the warmth travel down your body feels calming.

I was glad to discover when I moved to America that tea has taken off here in a way that it was the poor relation to coffee before – based on my travel experience, of course, rather than American people’s domestic arrangements.  There are far more varieties stocked in the supermarket (including British blend) and it is possible to order hot tea in some restaurants.  I have also now encountered some Americans who prefer tea to coffee.

I had a guest over to the house the other week and was delighted when she declared that she loved tea.  Down came my Great-Grandmother’s stainless steel art deco teapot from the shelf with matching jug and sugar bowl – I don’t myself take sugar but I always offer it to guests.  I offered a choice of Earl Grey or British blend tea and my guest chose the latter and that led to a conversation about tea leaves and origins.  I declared that I was in no way a tea fascist: I enjoy tea but I am not particular or fussy about it.

I then ensured that the kettle was filled with fresh water from the tap so as to ensure that it was perfectly oxygenated as reboiled water makes tea taste brackish; I studied the colour of the water as the tea bags steeped in the teapot and wheeked out the bags as soon as the perfect shade of amber had been achieved; I poured equal amounts of milk into each mug; then I carefully poured the tea while explaining that I had not quite perfected how to make tea with hard water since I am used to Scotland’s soft water.

My guest looked at me.  “I think maybe you are a little bit fussy about tea.”

Perhaps.  But I don’t (yet!) have loose tea and a strainer.  I left those behind in Scotland.

I shall conclude with a page from my art journal on this very subject.

Imageea

Weather

According to national stereotyping, British people are supposedly obsessed with the weather.  I confess that to be true by and large.  It’s a rare conversation that doesn’t involve some mention of the weather.  There are even people who claim they can predict the weather using their bunions and bladders.  It’s an island thing I’m sure, borne out of earlier generations needing to know exactly what gust of wind was going to do what when.

However, as much as I was part of that British cultural phenomenon of talking about the weather even to random strangers, I was never as obsessive about the weather as I have become in the two and a half months I have lived in America.  Not only do I now own a smartphone (a marvel for me in itself since I had the equivalent of a neanderthal mobile phone in Scotland) but I have weather apps on it.  Yes, apps plural.  Before October, I had heard of apps, got the concept but had never been near one.  Almost the first thing I did when I had a smartphone in my mitts was download weather apps.  I felt I needed more than one for verification purposes.  That was the first sign that the obsession was taking hold.

My husband always talked about how, growing up in the Washington DC metro area, he and his brother would watch the Weather Channel.  I always scoffed at this, judging it to be a lame use of time in the “paint drying” vein.  My husband also likes to watch the map on flights, even when the little plane symbol is just slowly moving pixel by pixel across the ocean.  I thought watching the weather channel was akin to that.  But lo and behold I now have the weather channel app on my phone and I have found myself watching (just a couple of times mind) the actual channel.  The obsession was taking root.

I think it is symptomatic of having moved here as Winter was coming (Mr Pict would say that in a Ned Stark voice) but I find myself checking for updates on the temperature and predicted precipitation and whether said precipitation will be in the form of rain or snow.  We have also had a rash of weather warnings in the past few weeks linked to the snow fall, some freezing rain and, today, a warning of severe wind chills for the coming days.  All those potential little “red alerts” just feed the growing obsession.

What the boys are obsessed about, of course, is snow days.  They just want to know if the weather is going to be so bad that they get to stay tucked up cosy in bed past their usual “rise and shine” time and stay home playing instead of going to school.  I have to admit to quite liking their snow days myself at the moment but perhaps that novelty will wear off.  I prefer the snow days that are called the evening before rather than receiving a trio of phone calls (each of our cell phones plus the landline) at 4.30 in the morning.

I wonder if there is an app for overcoming Weather Addiction….