Healthy and even teeth play a huge role in social conventions of attractiveness. Celebrities shell out tens of thousands of dollars for expensive dental veneers in order to achieve that toothy movie star smile, and anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of American children will wear teeth braces before the age of 18.
Conversely, a whole slew of negative stereotypes are attached to bad teeth. Rotten, crooked teeth are associated with evil. “The Simpsons” villain Mr. Burns has a prominent overbite, and Gargamel from “The Smurfs” possesses a lone, yellowed snaggletooth. Poor characters usually have missing teeth, and hillbilly characters have buck teeth.
“Having unhealthy teeth absolutely affects social and employment opportunity,” said Dr. Brandy Bannister, a dentist at the UH on-site dental clinic. ”If a person is not confident in their smile, they won’t be confident in an interview situation.”
Low-income and unemployed people often cannot afford dental care and do not have access to insurance, as most dental insurance in the United States is provided through employer packages or private insurers. Employers are far less likely to hire candidates with bad teeth, especially to jobs in social services.
“Quality ranges with care,” Bannister said. “A crown is about a thousand dollars, and dental implants can run from five to six thousand dollars.”
More than 30 percent of Harris County residents lack medical insurance. Public transportation in Houston is limited, so the few low-cost dental clinics in the area can be inaccessible to people without cars.
There are some low-cost dental care options in Houston. UH offers discounted dental services to students, faculty and staff. There are also private, nonprofit centers for low-cost dental care in the city of Houston, such as the San Jose Clinic and the Community Medical Center.
Increased dental coverage and accessible low-cost dental clinics in the city of Houston would support workplace productivity and economic mobility. As long as dental treatment is out of reach, people with bad teeth face a major barrier to employment.