On Downton Abbey and other BBC period shows, we easily discern the different accents, even dialects, of upper and lower classes. On Orange is the New Black, as in real life in America, access to healthcare remains a class indicator. Rotten teeth are hard to hide. Tooth decay is embarrassing. It signifies that supremely unforgivable character trait: not taking care of oneself—a particularly serious flaw in women, who are expected to look attractive. Several women I know cover their mouths when they speak or chew, and never, ever laugh—they don’t want anyone to see their teeth.
Many of us assume that rotten teeth are volitional—that if someone had just brushed and flossed then they’d have nice teeth. But it’s not that simple. Though teeth are part of our bodies, health care programs treat them as an afterthought. Dental health is not covered by standard health insurance and Medicare has no dental benefits, so about half of Americans don’t have dental insurance. In recent years, the cost of dental care has been increasing faster than the cost of other medical care. There’s also an urban/rural divide on access to dentists: 45 million Americans live in communities where there is a serious lack of dentists.
Read more of Susan Sered’s article on teeth and class in America on Bitch Media