MINTY MASTICATION! CHEWING GUM AND THE HOLLYWOOD SMILE
Are you a minty masticator? A serial gum chewer? One of those fellows who are constantly smacking gum round their mouths like a cow chewing the cud? ...As you may guess from this opening salvo, I’m not a fan of gum chewing. Don’t get me wrong, I do chew gum occasionally, but I usually keep it for the car; and if I am in public I make sure to keep my mouth well and truly closed. I certainly wouldn’t dream of going for a haircut and chewing gum the whole time, or appearing on a TV interview in a bovine stupor. But this is what people today seem to think is acceptable. I’m not here to make enemies, but this is one habit that I really do take issue with.
So why the rant, Sam? What’s the great occasion? Why grace these fine, digital pages with your wrath? Well, last month my editor wrote an article on teeth straightening – he recently re-straightened his teeth having already undergone braces as a schoolboy – and it got me thinking about dental fashions and the unusual accessories and modifications that are out there.
Let’s use the “Hollywood smile” as our starting point – everyone wants gleaming white teeth now, don’t they? It’s the American way and it carries much sway. In Britain, we seem to think that all Americans possess this glamorous grin. It’s a stereotype, but a positive one; the reversal of the American-held stereotype that all Brits have teeth like pirates. (If you’re reading from across the Atlantic, I can assure you that this is not so!) That whiter-than-white smile is much in demand now, and chewing gum is just one of the many ways to help achieve it (assuming it’s sugar-free). Have you noticed how gum chewing also seems to endow one with a peculiar kind of cockiness? I see it as the oral equivalent of putting on a swagger when you walk. At the root of it all (…very slight dental pun there) seems to be this belief that white teeth are somehow healthier, this idea that they are objectively superior. But luminous white gnashers have nothing to do with dental health – they’re purely a style choice, like big beards, tight trousers or a skin fade.
Don’t believe me? It’s true – look further afield and you’ll see that we’re really very parochial with our taste in teeth. Do you remember yaeba teeth – that trend that hit Japan? Yaeba means “double tooth” and it’s the Japanese term for a particular kind of dental crowding that occurs naturally in some people. One Japanese popstar with this “extra tooth” was so zealously worshipped that the whole nation started emulating her. Girls were actually going to the dentist to get their straight and evenly spaced teeth modified to look uneven and crowded. This “cute” look was the reigning ideal of Japanese dental beauty throughout the 2010s.
And over in Africa, you’ll find a similarly surprising view of what makes for a beautiful smile. Some communities like to sharpen their teeth, filing them down so they’re more pointed. For some this process is a rite of passage, for others it’s simply a means of looking more attractive. See this clip from a Channel 4 documentary – one woman says of her up-coming operation: “When I smile, all the men will want me.” And don’t go imagining that there’s any anaesthetic involved in these operations either. These dedicated followers of fashion just munch down on a stick and take the pain like a man, or indeed, like a woman.
All of which goes to show that our ideas here in the West about how teeth ought to look are very narrow. I think it’s highly refreshing, then, to see people in our society who have the confidence to do their own thing. Take Blondey McCoy, for example, the skater-cum-artist, fashion designer and model and the founder of Thames. He sports a gold tooth right at the front of his mouth. Presumably the original tooth got knocked out while he was skating, but far from shying away from the spotlight he has embraced the shiny gold replacement and makes a real feature of it. In interviews he takes it in and out and isn’t in the least bit abashed.
And what about the swimmer Ryan Lochte? Inspired by Hip Hop culture, he famously wore a blinging grill on his teeth when he received his Olympic medals. I’m not sure I’m a fan of this particular look, but it certainly complements his medal haul and it’s nice to see that he’s not just toeing the line when it comes to his style choices.
The point I’m trying to make here is simply that there’s more to teeth than just making them look exceedingly white. So the next time you reach for a stick o’ gum in pursuit of that dazzling smile, I recommend that you pause for a moment and think again. Instead, why not embrace the stains? Why not cultivate a set of teeth with real character? In place of the gum, I urge you to take a gulp of strong black coffee and swill it vigorously around your mouth several times; or, better still, take a generous swig of a full-bodied red wine… your natural fangs will do you just fine.