Blast from the Past: Terrible teeth

Time was when everyone had awful, tea-stained, chipped, snaggled and yellow teeth - not unlike Austin Powers - but now everyone, it seems, is in possession of perfect pearlies, writes HELEN MCGURK.

By Helen McGurk
Friday, 15th April 2022, 1:29 pm
Austin Powers was famous for his awful teeth
Austin Powers was famous for his awful teeth

A dentist friend working in a rural part of Northern Ireland once told me about a farmer she treated.

This gent, let’s called him Jim, hadn’t been to a dentist for at least two decades, indeed the only reason he appeared at her door was for the removal of a painful and stubborn wisdom tooth that he had failed to numb with copious amounts of whiskey and extract himself with a pair of pliers.

Upon opening his mouth, my friend, not someone easily shocked by oral atrocities, was stunned by what she saw, for Jim had painted his teeth brilliant white, using a soft satin sheen he’d used to touch up his windowsills.

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My friend gave Jim a stern lecture about the dangers of what he had done and asked what had prompted such drastic action.

Jim replied he was thinking about getting a wife, he wasn’t getting any younger (he was 70, if he was a day), and was worried his stained gnashers would put off any potential love interest, thus the coat of emulsion (don’t try this at home, kids!).

Poor Jim failed in his teeth whitening experiment, but cosmetic dentistry of all hues is big business these days. It’s fashionable to have a set of teeth that look like the keys on a Steinway, perfectly straight Persil-white, bleached, braced and veneered to perfection, but it wasn’t always thus.

Growing up, I don’t remember anyone having a blindingly white Hollywood smile. Mouths were an orchestra of disorder, with teeth in a parlous state, yellow/brown/black, magnolia at best, train-track braces, gaps and horrendous gold and amalgam fillings. A lot of the time when people smiled it was like looking at Harold Steptoe’s dad or Shane MacGowan. Those who did have seemingly perfect film star teeth were revealed to be false when clicked out for a laugh. Only when American relatives came to visit, did I envy their blocks of perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth that looked as if they were curated by a 6ft 5in chino-wearing dentist called Brad.

Still, I think dazzling, toilet-bowl white teeth and horsey veneers look really out of place in the mouth of your average pasty Northern Irish person. So step away from the Dulux and embrace your inner Austin Powers, not your Donny Osmond!