My teeth aren’t perfect. I drink coffee, I prefer stain-inducing red wine to white, and I didn’t wear my retainers as a teenager. But thanks to a mother obsessed with keeping me pearly and cavity-free, I got braces to reel back my buck teeth, received bi-annual fluoride treatments to keep fillings at bay, and endured pricey whiteners to abate a Diet Coke-tinted grin. For that, I’m eternally grateful. After all, who doesn’t enjoy hearing “I really like your smile” on a first date, or getting compliments over the din of the dental hygienist’s plaque grinder?
Nobody ever told me that I landed a job thanks to my awesome incisors, but according to researchers at Columbia University, my teeth may be adding to my paycheck. In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers found that childhood access to fluoridated water leads to better employment opportunity and earnings – but it only applies to women. In the study, “The Economic Value of Teeth,” researchers Sherry Glied and Matthew Neidell found “women who resided in communities with fluoridated water during childhood earn approximately 4% more than women who did not, but [there is] no effect of fluoridation for men.”
It makes sense that a snazzy set of chompers could be advantageous, even in the office; and it’s not a revelation that society tends to place more emphasis on a woman’s looks than a man’s. It’s not that I fancy myself a born-again Naomi Wolf, but when I saw this study, it really gave me pause.
We Americans are obsessed with teeth – they’re not just a sign of beauty, they’re a sign of good health. Even some of Hollywood’s grungiest dudes seem to manage a quick run-in with the Sonicare, despite being unable to find a clean shirt, shave, or wash their hair more than once a week (case in point: Robert Pattinson, pictured above). Because bad breath? Cavities? Yellowing? No thanks.
Proper hygiene aside, not all teeth are created equal. Among the rich and famous, there’s nary a female snaggletooth to be found (Madonna and Lauren Hutton’s charming gaps don’t count), but more than a few imperfect male mouths. Take a look:
Something tells me that Johnny Depp and David Bowie wouldn’t get away with their messed-up mouths if they weren’t male. While we women are busy getting surgery on a crooked tooth, avoiding caffeine because it might make our smile less lovely, and dropping hundreds of dollars to change our smiles from ivory to pearl, guys are worrying about things like developing the next billion-dollar search engine, writing the next hit single, or filming the next Tim Burton movie.
Sure, some men worry about their pearly whites, and occasionally you meet a high-powered woman with a less-than-perfect smile. But the economic value of teeth points to yet another case of discrimination in the workplace, and as much as I love my toothy grin, it pisses me off that it matters to anybody except my dentist, my date, and me.