There's more to dental health than meets the eye

31 July 2015
  • Nearly half (48%) of Brits think teeth need be straight to be considered healthy and two-fifths (40%) believe having ‘nicely shaped’ teeth is a true indicator of healthy gnashers,
  • Over half (56%) believe being white is enough for their teeth to considered healthy,
  • Findings serve as warning to dentally vain Britain where nearly a third (31%) of adults suffer from tooth decay and two-thirds (66%) have visible plaque*.
man with glasses
New research shines a dentist’s light on the UK’s modern dental vanity and how this desire for pristine pearly whites means Britons are wrongly assuming that having shiny or shapely gnashers means they have a healthy set of teeth and gums.  

The new study from Bupa UK, who have 40 dental centres across the UK providing affordable, high quality dentistry in convenient locations, highlights the importance we’re placing on dental appearance vs. health. 

Nearly half (48%) of respondents believe having straight teeth is an indicator of having healthy gnashers, two fifths (40%) think simply having nicely shaped teeth means they’re in good health and over a quarter (27%) are only happy about their pearly whites if they’re shiny. 

However, latest figures show that 31% of UK adults suffer from tooth decay and 66% have visible plaque.* The Royal College of Surgeons report** also pinpoints tooth decay as the main reason five to nine year olds are admitted to hospital in England. These results reveal the true scale of dental health issues in the UK and that just focusing on superficial dental appearance could negatively impact our oral health. 

Commenting on the research, Lance Knight, Bupa Dentist, said:   “Of course most people want their teeth to look good but appearance isn’t everything when it comes to having a healthy set of teeth. It’s vital that people thoroughly brush and clean all their teeth and gums, and not just the front teeth, to prevent issues such as tooth decay or gum disease, which many people across the UK still suffer from.” 

Impeccable gnashers sported by public figures could be fuelling this misconception and dental vanity, with over half (52%) of Brits confessing that the teeth of modern celebrities means they feel more pressure to have the perfect set of sparklers. Over half (56%) believe having pristine white teeth is enough for them to be considered healthy, whilst only 50% of those polled actually think having healthy teeth is even an important consideration. 

Lance Knight adds:  “It’s crucial not to think that having beautifully formed or white teeth automatically means that you have healthy teeth. Conversely, not having bright, white, teeth doesn’t necessarily mean your teeth are unhealthy. Good dental hygiene is vital, and we mustn’t forget to clean and brush every part of our teeth and gums, irrespective of what they look like on the outside. We are seeing an increased demand for teeth whitening in our clinics, but anyone who is treated for this will also go through a full dental check to ensure that their teeth are healthy.” 

The research also found that:

  • Nearly a fifth of respondents (17%) confessed they need the reassurance of a compliment from friends or family before they feel good about their teeth,
  • Less than 1 in 10 (6%) feel proud about their pearly whites,  
  • Over two-fifths (42%) want to change the appearance of their teeth,  
  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) wish their gnashers were whiter.   

The old adage that ‘smilers never lose’ might explain why nearly a third (33%) of the nation believes people who smile or grin a lot have a healthy set of teeth. Yet the study gave a bristle-sharp reminder that Britons shouldn’t assume that our teeth being pain free means our teeth are healthy, where over two-fifths (43%) confessed only feeling good about their teeth if they don’t feel sensitive. Bupa UK has 40 dental centres across the UK that provide affordable, high quality dentistry in convenient locations close to where people work, in comfortable and friendly environments. With a range of general dentistry and specialist treatment available across its dental centres, you can find everything from routine dental check-ups and dental hygiene treatment, to gum treatments, fillings, crowns and cosmetic treatment. For further information please visit:  

Notes to editor

Bupa research carried out with OnePoll surveying 1,000 people (July 2015) about perceptions of dental health

*Findings taken from the British Dental Health Foundation’s 2015 National Smile Month campaign

** Findings taken from the Royal College of Surgeons’ report, published this year (2015)

About Bupa dental centres: 

  • Bupa has a network of 40 dental centres across the UK provide affordable, high-quality dentistry in convenient locations close to where people work.
  • Bupa Dental Centres are open to all and provide a wide variety of dental care from routine examinations to specialist treatments such as oral surgery as well as cosmetic dental treatments.
  • Bupa Dental Centres are led by experienced clinicians, working to the highest clinical standards and using the latest technology.
  • Exclusive to Bupa Dental Centres, patients can now receive full cover on all routine dental care, with no claim shortfalls or forms to fill in, using the Bupa Dental Health Plan.
  • Bupa also insures or funds over 130,000 dental customers through dental insurance and cash plans.

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

At Bupa, we have no shareholders. Our priority is looking after you... through our care homes, health insurance, health centres and dental centres. Bupa. Our focus is your health.

We have 15.7 million health insurance customers, provide healthcare to around 14.5 million people in our clinics and hospitals, and look after over 23,000 aged care residents.

We directly employ around 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland, and many more through our associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance is around 73% of our business. In a number of countries, we also run clinics, dental centres, hospitals, and care homes and villages.

For more information, visit

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