Teeth Shaming Is Real — And Here’s Why It Needs to Stop

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Chinese Olympic swimmer Sun Yang was mocked on Twitter for not having perfect teeth. (Photo: Getty Images)

While Olympic athletes from around the world compete for the gold, silver, and bronze medals in Rio, the Twittersphere is on fire commenting about Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.

Even though some people on social media are focused on the drug controversy — back in May 2014, the world-record-holding distance swimmer served a three-month ban for testing positive for the illegal substance Trimetazidine (used to treat angina) — many others across the globe are focused on the imperfect smile Yang revealed after winning the gold in the 200m men’s freestyle on Tuesday:


Let’s face it — viewers have become accustomed to seeing people on the big and small screens sporting a set of perfect pearly whites. However, a gorgeous smile costs thousands of dollars, and that kind of disposable income is not a reality for the general public.

For years, studies have associated low-income areas with poor oral health. In fact, study authors from University of Southern California concluded that 73 percent of disadvantaged kids in Los Angeles suffer from dental disease, and that tooth pain was linked to lower grades and missed days of school. Then in 2015, dental researchers at Case Western Reserve University and University of Washington further discovered that parents’ education level, as well as their dental habits, were additional factors in influencing their children’s oral health.

Another reality behind a flawed smile is dental phobia. According to Colgate, it has been estimated that nine to 15 percent of Americans — roughly about 30 million to 40 million people — avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear.

And then there’s the shaming factor to consider — but not the one on social media. A study conducted by professors from the University of California, San Diego, uncovered that about 25 percent of patients surveyed encountered a shaming experience from either their dentist, gynecologist, or primary care physician.

“Tough love and shaming don’t always work,” Christine Harris, study author and professor of psychology in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, said in a press release. “In fact, they can be counterproductive.”

Yang is not the only Olympian to have crooked teeth. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that 18 percent of 302 athletes surveyed during the London 2012 Olympic Games said their poor oral health was having a negative impact on their performance.

“It is amazing that many professional athletes — people who dedicate a huge amount of time and energy to honing their physical abilities — do not have sufficient support for their oral health needs, even though this negatively impacts on their training and performance,” lead author Ian Needleman, a professor at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London, said in a press release.

Yet it’s refreshing to see that not everyone on Twitter is on the Yang shame train. One Twitter user came to his defense:


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