A few months ago I had to take a child to the dentist. The visit went smoothly, though there was a gentle suggestion that parents might need to take over flossing duties. Ahem. Duly noted…and subsequently ignored.
We were talking about an orthodontist consult we’d had and the costs associated with these procedures; the dentist mentioned several studies recently that have found people with straight, white teeth are more likely to end up in a higher wage-earning bracket as an adult. He said something along the lines of: It’s too bad society works this way…but it does.
During this same visit we talked about the wonderful provincial healthcare plan that covers most of the cost of dental work for children until they turn 15! (This is not standard across all provinces, strangely enough.) The dentist mentioned how, even though it’s free, many parents who don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay for their own dental work – out of a position of shame and/or concern about expensive procedures being recommended that wouldn’t be covered – don’t bring in their eligible children. It hadn’t crossed my mind that this free resource would be disproportionately accessed by people with more financial independence.
From having the flexibility to cart your children to appointments in the middle of the day, to being able to cover the bill to correct issues, in so many ways, the cascade effect of privilege can impact what the world sees when we smile.
I had never really thought about well-aligned, white teeth as being yet another form of socioeconomic privilege but, of course, they are. And that realization took me by (sad) surprise.
Your turn. How do you feel about the dentist? Did you have braces as a child – I, along with several other family members, have a slight gap in my front teeth and, through no virtue of my own, evaded orthodontic treatments. That’s fortunate because there is no way my parents would have been able to afford braces. Once, when my siblings were younger, a dental bill for our family totaled more than my father’s net salary for a MONTH.