First Run Icarus Films, Brooklyn NY, 2007
DVD, 26 mins, colour
Distributors Website: http://www.frif.com.
Reviewed by Kathryn Adams
A quick scan of dentistry through the
ages confirms the fact that dental procedures
have certainly improved over time. Hippocrates
and Aristotle wrote of cauterization with
a red, hot wire to treat diseases of the
teeth. Decay removal during the middle
ages was by way of a dental drill
or metal rod rotated between the surgeons
hands. By the 1100s, an abscess was lanced
by the local barber and teeth were sometimes
extracted in the marketplace by self-taught
vagabonds. Thankfully, from the 18th
century onwards, scientific and technological
advancements in dentistry have not only
given us electric dental tools, the hydraulic
recliner and the much-applauded anesthesia
but have established orthodontics as a
specialty. Today, high-speed dentistry
enables us to look beyond our basic oral
hygiene needs and concentrate on acquiring
and maintaining the perfect smile.
But have we gone too far?
Alice Arnolds light-hearted and
investigative documentary Teeth
explores Americas obsession with
straight, gleaming white, flawless teeth.
Through a series of interviews with dentists,
a psychoanalyst, a health educator, and
a group of people whose pearly whites
are somewhat challenged, we learn that
having an attractive smile in contemporary
society not only boosts our self esteem,
thus having a positive, psychological
effect on the way we interact socially,
but it is a sign of economic and social
standing. As Michael Moskowitz, psychoanalyst
to show ones good, perfect,
white teeth is to show that one has the
money and the power needed to maintain
those good, perfect, white teeth."
Bombarded with images in the media of
happy, successful people with perfect
smiles, the populace is pressured into
feeling that even the slightest dental
imperfection should be corrected. The
cosmetic dentistry business is booming
and people are queuing up for implants,
porcelain veneers, gum lifts, crowns,
bridges and laser bleaching. We are brightening
dull teeth, closing gaps, repairing and
straightening chipped and crooked teeth
so as not to feel defective, flawed, substandard,
or inferior. But as Arnolds documentary
points out, aesthetic dental procedures
are costly, and it is the lower income
earners who are again disadvantaged. Charles
Gordys famous quote, "a smile
is an inexpensive way to change your looks"
no longer applies!
Noncommittal yet informative and incisive,
this documentary flows along nicely with
a jazzy audio mix by Norm Scott. Smile
related quotes and survey results, such
as the Invisalign Smile Survey,
which examines the importance of the smile
on careers, dating, self esteem etc.,
appear as text throughout the documentary.
This all works quite well but the split
screen technique (The Brady Bunch
style) used during some of the interviews
is incredibly distracting.
From Freud to hip hop this documentary
covers a lot of ground. Freuds theories
on why we dream of losing teeth and how
teeth represent the penis (who would have
thought?) are of interest as is the latest
in fashion for teeth among todays
hip hop culture. Diamond studded gold
or silver grills fixed to the teeth are
becoming more and more popular. As one
grill enthusiast explains,
"I dont buy the typical white
mans attitude to all white teeth.
. . . Im going to have gold ones."
However, with such a vast collection of
information and very little time to expand
on any one aspect, the documentary lacks
weight and seems to finish at the midway
point. It could well have been the first
of a six part series and would have had
viewers looking forward to the next installment.
Dentistry for aesthetic purposes is a
much-needed advancement for some, but
lets not rid ourselves of all our
quirky gaps, chips, and roguish, wily
teeth. They give us our uniqueness. As
Austin Powers International Man
of Mystery notes, "In Britain
in the 60s you could be a sex symbol and
still have bad teeth." Yeah baby.