Nudging the Boundaries


Fresno, California, US
April 11
Writer, Registered Addiction Specialist, civil rights/civil liberties activist


DECEMBER 24, 2011 10:32AM

Harry Potter and the bad teeth

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Did you notice, when you watched the first Harry Potter movie, that all of the "evil" kids in the Slytherin house have particularly crooked teeth, while the "good" kids from Gryffindor all had bright white and perfectly aligned teeth? It's particularly apparent during the Quiddich match between the two houses. It really made me think about what kind of propaganda we're teaching our children about those who can afford dental care and those who cannot. Does evil spring exclusively from the poor? Does it develop because those who don't have wealth and status will go to any lengths to obtain those things? Are we to see poor kids with bad teeth as more crime-prone?

bad teeth 

I was thinking today about the availability of dental care for the poorer members of our communities. The working poor often have no health care or dental care, while those who are unemployed and make their way with government assistance frequently rely on Medicaid for their health care, which covers an extremely narrow array of dental services.

While I was classified as disabled, I was on California's version of Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal. Years of living without any kind of health insurance left my teeth in a sad state, and I sought--while I still had coverage--to have my teeth cleaned and examined for what seemed to me to be critical problems, lest I begin losing my teeth at a relatively young age.


As it turns out, simple teeth cleanings are not covered under Medi-Cal. Nor are fillings or any other kind of preventive care. In fact, the only thing Medi-Cal covers is emergency tooth extraction. Further, if one's teeth are lost and must be replaced somehow in order to chew food, dentures are not covered. There is essentially no dental coverage whatsoever beyond the yanking of teeth that have become too painful to tolerate. In my city, there is a clinic that offers free dental care to the first few takers a few times per week, but again, only emergency tooth extraction is performed unless special dispensation is obtained ahead of time to have a tooth filled. A few other sliding-scale clinics are available in our area, but even the reduced rates for service are prohibitively high for many.


As a consequence of poverty, then, poorer children tend to have crooked, dirty teeth with complimentary spaces where the state or a free clinic has generously removed an offending tooth. How does this affect one's employability? How many other opportunities are lost as a result of this kind of discrimination?

Getting back to the Harry Potter example, I'm led to believe, then, that poorer kids are more likely to be evil. As a propaganda tool, it further divides the wealthier members of our communities from the poorer. It lends itself to the impression that our crooked-toothed citizens are less worthy of our respect or even our higher expectations by virtue of the condition of their teeth.

dental care 

I took a quick look at The Affordable Care Act to see if "Obamacare" is expected to improve the availability of dental care for us, but the picture is rather muddy. I hope that plans offered to those who cannot afford care will also cover routine dental care. It's absurd that we should vilify those who cannot afford care and then withhold such care because the poor clearly don't deserve it, particularly if they should have inclinations toward criminal activity, an assumption that naturally arises from such films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. 

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Maybe this weekend we should think of Tiny Tim's teeth.
Here's what I can find on dental and vision in the ACA:

Dental and Vision Benefits
Q6: What if my dental (or vision) benefits are structured as excepted benefits under HIPAA? Does that exemption except my dental (or vision) plan from the Affordable Care Act’s market reforms?

Yes. If benefits constitute excepted benefits under HIPAA, the requirements of the Affordable Care Act’s market reforms do not apply. Under HIPAA, dental (and vision) benefits generally constitute excepted benefits if they:
Are offered under a separate policy, certificate, or contract of insurance; or
Are not an integral part of the plan. For dental (or vision) benefits to be considered not an integral part of the plan (whether insured or self-insured), participants must have a right not to receive the coverage and, if they do elect to receive the coverage, must pay an additional premium.
Accordingly, if a plan provides its dental (or vision) benefits pursuant to a separate election by a participant and the plan charges even a nominal employee contribution towards the coverage, the dental (or vision) benefits would constitute excepted benefits, and the market reform provisions would not apply to that coverage.

My spouse notes that the Malfoys are wealthy enough to have good teeth, which raises the question of why the wealthy would choose the evil side, since such a thing seems to exist in the fictional world.

If you watch movies like the Mission Impossible series, the "evil-doers" have good teeth. What, then, is the motivation? Often it is revenge that drives these characters, or sometimes it is the exercise of power. It is odd how theatrical bad guys with good teeth and existing wealth seem to be even more criminally evil than their poorer counterparts.

I should add that in Harry Potter I, Neville Longbottom is a member of Gryffindor (the "good" house), and his teeth are made to look less than perfect. In the films, he is an also-ran who seems to be included because of his good will, and it takes some time for him to be fully accepted by the tribe.
Periodically the newspapers will run a story about someone who has died from lack of ordinary preventive dental care — untreated tooth decay causes an abscess, which causes a killer infection....
Brunhilde -
I've known people who have been admitted to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics due to abscesses, massively swollen faces. Scary stuff.
Untreated dental infections can affect the heart too.

I think perhaps the bad-teeth obsession in Harry Potter comes from its being English, long famous for their bad teeth regardless of class.

I am happy to live in Canada where we get universal health care unconnected to income. Dental care is not covered despite occasional cries that it is an essential part of health care. However, I noticed in our local township paper that we have a free dental clinic now (tho I intend to continue with my dentist and leave that service to those who need and cannot afford).

American horror of socialism and worship of greed punishes its people. I was going to say it reduces their productivity...but it's a society that has exported so many jobs and doesn't know what to do with all the unemployed, so productivity is the least of its concerns.
Myriad -
I'm truly shocked that you don't enjoy dental care with your health care. I agree wholeheartedly regarding American approaches to health and productivity.

Your comments about the Harry Potter movies make sense. I had forgotten it's a British film. Still, there is a division between the classes there too. We once thought it was more of a British way of doing things, but we seem to have it here much worse now.
I'll need to watch that movie again to have a listen to the accents to determine if there's a class difference there, but I don't recall anything earth-shaking. Still, good teeth in one house and bad teeth in another signifies something.
I have been studying the teeth of Occupy Wall Street protesters. At the moment they all seem to have perfectly straight, often bleached teeth. The moment we start seeing crooked teeth, we will know the Occupy movement has expanding into the traditional working class.
Dr -
Does that mean you don't think Occupy as it is today has a bone to pick?
Looks like I failed to comment in response to your comment. Sorry, here it is: LOL! Tiny Tim is an excellent example.