Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Are straight teeth a cosmetic luxury?

I was talking to someone the other day whose daughter has just got a plate for her teeth (a mini-brace). Having gone through the horror of “train tracks” on both sets of teeth at age 14, I was sympathising about the indignities of orthodontic treatment. However, it emerged during the conversation that this kind of dentistry is seen as “elective” in Australia’s healthcare system – i.e. it’s not a necessity and is something you choose to have. This has a couple of ramifications. Firstly, it means that even if you have private health insurance (which most middle class families do), you still have to pay for the majority of costs yourself, which for the type of braces I had would be around £3,500. If you don’t have private health insurance (like most working class families), then you have to pay for the full cost.

Secondly, the result is that braces are seen as a kind of status symbol – it means your parents can afford to get your teeth fixed. So the kid with the squint teeth from the poorer family ends up with a double whammy of stigma and bad teeth!!

I was pretty shocked by this. My parents can correct me if I’m wrong but I’m fairly sure that if we’d had to fork out that kind of cash, then there’s no way I’d have the nice straight teeth I’ve got today. Ok, maybe this wouldn’t have been the end of my world but it would have made a pretty big difference to my self-confidence, not to mention my ability to eat apples properly! Makes me glad I grew up in the UK and really makes me appreciate the value of the NHS as an equaliser of people.

No comments: