Amish Teeth: From Dentures to Braces

Back from vacation–and thank you for all the nice wishes.  It was a (mostly) restful week spent at the ocean with family, with no sunburns, and a little extra sleep, so I guess I’m coming out ahead here.

After a week off there’s a lot out there to comment on. This might not be the most important news in Amish America, but over the last week I’ve been hearing about one of the young stars of the TLC “reality” show Breaking Amish having dentures.  Apparently she is getting picked on by one of the other characters (not the most uplifting show, this Breaking Amish, if you hadn’t suspected).

Amish DenturesIt is hardly unheard of for some Amish individuals–even rather young people–to wear dentures.  For a variety of reasons including convenience and cost some Amish (particularly in more traditional groups) may be less apt to visit dentists for preventive care.  When problems occur it may make be simpler and cheaper to yank rotten teeth than to try to repair them.

On the other hand, on my recent travels I ran into young Amish people with braces.  I don’t think you’d find a lot of Swartzentruber Amish wearing braces (don’t know if that would be explicit in the Swartzentruber Ordnung or just understood).  But these mainline Amish didn’t seem to have a problem with a little proactive cosmetic smile correction.  Another illustration of the “different strokes” you see in Amish society.

Did any of you readers ever wear braces?  I did for awhile, but just on four upper teeth.  At that time–early teenage years for me–it seemed like every other person my age had a mug full of steel.  Of course I do remember some of the teasing names (“brace face”, “metal mouth”, etc).  Is the same stigma still attached to wearing braces today?

Dentures as a teenager is another story. It can’t be easy being a young person with dentures, at least outside of Amish society (and I’d think even in it).

While we’re on the topic, we actually had an interesting discussion on “Amish dentistry” last year on the Unusual Amish Occupations post.  Rich Stevick, who’s actually witnessed an “Amish tooth doctor” at work, had this to say:

Tom Keenan’s mentioning a denture maker reminds me that there are several Amish “dentists” plying their trade. The one I visited (observation only) had been threatened by state dental authorities to cease and desist of face sizeable fines. He told me that the authorities would have to put him in jail first because he was doing a needed service for the community.

I asked him about wisdom teeth extraction, and he told me that after making a cross cut on the overlying gums of impacted wisdom teeth, “most pop out as slick as a whistle.” (He had utmost confidence in his abilities and received novacain from a source in Florida.) I watched him pull two badly decayed incisors from a 15 year old Amish girl, after which he held one up, with its long pink root, for her to examine and admire–amazing.

He could not charge for his services, but at that time, I think he received about $15 as a “contribution” for each tooth. I asked him if he ever tried to fill teeth,and he opined that if he would do that, the authorities would definitely crack down on him. “That’s where dentists make their money,” he stated.

Dentures photo: Jeremy Brooks/flickr

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    1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      At least one tooth in my mouth is crooked and it makes my smile appear to have a gap in it, off to the side, but I’ve never been clear on which one it is. My parents decided that it wasn’t a huge hindrance to my health, as a kid, to have one tooth astray. No braces for me, though one year in school I thought about the idea.
      As an adult I’ve never felt the need to straighten it out, my tooth, I have no interest in a television broadcast career, or serious acting, so I’m okay. I have no serious problems with my mouth.
      For me, I was lucky that I found a dental hygienist training school that offered teeth cleaning in my area and within my budget. I don’t know if there are facilities near where strict Amish live, but it can be a cost effective step to even minimal dental care, plus, the way I look at it, such a care plan helps a young person in that program get an education.

    2. Valerie

      I was tinsel teeth

      Welcome back Erik,I am reminded of that saying “At the seashore, we forget to count the days”, glad you are refreshed and we missed you.

      Yes, I was one who wore braces-3 YEARS. Full mouth of them, from 12 yrs to 15 yrs. BAD timing for a girl who was in a worldy society of depending on appearancs, but mom & dad thought in the long run I’d appreciate it.

      It surprises me the Amish would do that. I know there are very good reasons to straighten teeth at times besides cosmetic-but I always thought Amish shyed away from such things. It now makes me wonder if they will wear contact lenses instead of glasses?

      SHOM-great suggestions!!! I think that’s excellent alternative, the school for dental work.

      Have a blessed day,

    3. Richard from Amish Stories

      Breaking Amish= Im not watching

      Welcome back Erik and as far as that “Breaking Amish” show, watching it would knock the smile off of anyone’s face regardless of wearing dentures or not. For me all of them (Amish reality shows) since the beginning are only just for exploitation and low budget tickles, and as you can see I dont tickle too easy. I’m not quite sure what I mean here but if I wrote it, well it must be Important!

      Richard from

    4. I was one of the first kids in our small town to wear braces. I had a small mouth, large teeth, and serious overcrowding. Four teeth were yanked before the work even began. My parents had to drive me 25 miles to the othodontist’s town. He was a serious alcoholic, and after 3-4 years, they decided things weren’t going anywhere, so they had our regular dentist remove the braces. The bottom teeth realigned themselves a little bit, and not in a good way. (When we took a trip to Canada, a kid there asked why I had “chains” on my teeth.)

    5. Jessica M

      Timely post, Erik. I’m actually heading to the dentist this morning for some fillings. lol But no, never had braces. My parents would have gotten them for me, but I swallowed some flouride when I was a kid and it made me sick. I spent the next 23 years hiding from the dentist. A cavity in my late 20s brought me back to the chair and I have been a regular ever since and every trip brings a handful of fillings. Pretty soon I think I am going to run out of teeth to fill and then I just may be one of the next ones going the dentures route. lol I had a wisdom tooth pulled in August with just novacain and it gave the dentist such a hard time coming out. I can’t imagine an untrained dentist pulling it!

    6. Loretta T

      Comment on Amish teeth

      I never had braces but wanted our children to have the ‘perfect’ smile. Unfortunately, one orth dr had problems of his own so our older daughter suffered the consequences by having decay under too loose bands. We were vigilent in reg cleanings but didn’t know about the loose bands, so she has several fillings. I retired from the dentist office and have seen many children who were in need of braces for health reasons. Thankfully braces aren’t the stigma they use to be.
      As for breaking Amish. Where does all the money come from that is freely spent? We have watched the progam a few times but it is not a healthy reflection on the Amish, as a whole.

    7. So happy you’re back, Erik, and had a nice relaxing time. Just a little sidenote, braces aren’t just for cosmetic reasons. Sometimes it helps to get things straightened out that would lead to bigger expenses and a lot of pain down the road. I know not everyone can afford that though. I wonder if living in rural areas with non-fluoridated water adds to their dental problems? I never had braces, but was one of those weird kids that was jealous of the brace-wearers. I thought it would be fun to have braces, but after having two kids that went through it, of course I realized it’s not a piece of cake. 🙂 Have a great week ~

      1. Thanks for pointing that out, Beth. And as far as cosmetics go I think there’s nothing wrong with an imperfect smile–a crooked tooth or two may even give a person a little “character” 🙂

    8. Annmarie

      I have never had braces, but my eldest daughter did MOST need them. The stigma that you mentioned is pretty much gone. Now they put these colored rubber bands on and the kids coordinate it to their favorite sports team colors or upcoming holiday etc..I did watch breaking the Amish on the learning since I do not have cable and it saddened me their MEAN behavior to the other girl with dentures. I think there is always good and bad in every community, ethnicity, race etc…and think they may have picked the ones who poorly reflect the Amish culture for the sake of RATINGS for their show. Lets face it..if there was no drama they could NOT sucks people in to watch it.

    9. Roxanne

      I live in Ashland County, Ohio. An Amish friend of ours had Lasik (eye) surgery a few years ago to eliminate the need to wear glasses. He’s in construction, so his reason for having the surgery might be work-related. He’s not a Swartzentruber, ‘though we have them in the area.

    10. Brenda Henry

      In our little Amish community, there is a little 5 year old girl that has ‘a mouth almost full of silver’. The parents had all of her back teeth capped when she was 3. There are two places they visit regularly; that being the eye doctor and the dentist.

    11. The Swartzentruber Amish that I knew of in Ohio that pulled teeth got in trouble (jail time included) for not revealing where they got the Novacain from. There is nothing illegal about pulling someone else’s tooth for free, or even a donation. Even filling someone’s tooth is legal. I used to haul folks to the one in upper Holmes that did tooth pulling two days a week. By the looks on some of those coming out the door, the Novacain was not used or was minimal. 🙂
      There is a Plain person in another state doing dental work (wont mention where) that even some people here in PA are going to when they have several family members that need work. He even does fillings. One man that I talked to that went there was glad to save hundreds of dollars, I am thinking it would even possibly have been a thousand or more.

    12. I was one of those teens with braces and my oldest daughter wore them as well (she is 16 and has been out of them for about 18 months). I think the stigma of wearing braces is gone. My daughter didn’t get picked on at all and many of her friends also had braces.

      About the show Breaking Amish. Its sad if the girl is getting picked on for wearing dentures. Second, have you heard that the show isn’t as much Amish as it seems? I read an article that said 2 of the young people actually have a child together even though they “aren’t together yet” on the show. Another is divorced with 3 kids? I think if you google Breaking Amish and “fake” you will pull up a bunch or sites although I did not see the actual article that I read (which I had seen on an FB sites for those that read Amish fiction books. Anyway, just wondering if you had heard anything about that. I don’t have TLC, so I don’t get to watch the show.

      Take care and I’m glad you had a nice vacation!

    13. LeeAnn

      I never wore braces but two of my kids did. Both had problems with the braces slipping off. Had to wearthem longer than normal. One of my kids even had to do it a second time, which isn’t cheap.

      As for Breaking Amish, haven’t seen it. Been to busy, but from the sounds of it here, doesn’t sound like something I want to watch.

      Glad you go some extra rest Erik!

    14. Roberta

      My two front teeth were about 1/2 inch apart forcing all of my other upper teeth to grow in sideways. My parents did not have insurance to cover braces so my regular dentist suggested cutting my gums, moving my front teeth together and turning my sideways teeth frontwards. This he did in his office with me under novocaine. I ate soup for a few days and my teeth turned out great. This wouldn’t happen nowadays.

    15. Marilyn from NY

      Amish Teeth

      I never had braces on my teeth but one of my brother’s did while he was in High School and part of college. The one thing I remember he was dating a girl that also had braces. He kissed her and somehow they got stuck together. Somehow they got to a pay phone and called my parents. My parents couldn’t get a dentist on the phone so they called our family doctor. Parents picked up my brother and his, then, girlfriend and took them to our MD. He cut the braces and separated them. The doctor was laughing so hard while he was doing that. My brother never kissed anyone until he had the braces off. Then his senior year in college he was driving to a friends house and had a car accident. That was the days before seat belts. He hit his mouth on the dash board and broke all the front teeth that he had braces on. When he recovered from the accident he had to go to the dentist and get them all capped. I came around and wanted braces, but because of my brothers history-my parents talked me out of them.

      1. Mary

        Very funny!! 🙂 A story to relate to his grandchildren some day!!

    16. I never had braces although I should have. I have very crooked teeth. All 3 of my children have had braces-I just returned from an orthodontic appointment my youngest had this morning.I agree the stigma is gone. It seems now it’s a bad thing to not to have had braces unless your teeth are naturally straight. Really glad you’re back to posting and that you had a restful vacation.

    17. Carolyn B

      I’m also glad to see you’ve returned, Erik — missed having the posts in my email.

      Re: teeth — in his 40s/50s my former boss got braces. He was silver on top (hair) and silver in his smile. I don’t know if it was for cosmetic or medical reasons.

      I should have braces on my teeth right now due to a couple turning molars which have crowded my front teeth. There used to be a gap between front teeth, top & bottom, but now they overlap some.

    18. Alice Mary

      Like pulling teeth!

      Welcome back,Erik, and what a topic to start the day with! Our old family dentist (in my childhood) was “cheap with novocaine”–I know, I had a root canal at 14! We didn’t go for 6-mo. cleanings/check ups (grandparents fromthe “old country” didn’t, parents didn’t), only went to the dentist when we were in pain with cavities/abcesses. Two of my lower, slightly off-center teeth are still awfully crooked to this day (nope, no braces, either). Dentists always comment on them. I tell them (and it’s true) that they are the only two teeth in my mouth that NEVER had a cavity or any other trouble. I thought they were cool, as a kid, so I named them “Irving” and “Seymour”. 🙂

      I am right in the middle of a very long and expensive dental “procedure”—with no dental insurance. I had to have one tooth (previous root canal, cap and post popped out more than once) pulled last month, and the oral surgeon found another cavity under a capped tooth that’s to be used for a subsequent bridge. Had to have that worked on, which left it weakened. One thing lead to another, and besides the $295 extraction, the bridge (one false tooth, hooked to three other teeth) will cost $3,824.00!!! Did I mention “no dental insurance”????!!! Ouch!!!

      No wonder I had such terror attacks and (honestly) nightmares about my teeth as a teen & young adult—back then, it was due to physical pain, now it’s due to FINANCIAL pain in the pocketbook!

      Erik, how about implants?(That was another option I was given, but I think it would take more money out of my pocket not to mention time from what I may have left)! Do you know of any Amish with dental implants, or if that would be allowed by even the progressive groups? (And while I’m at it, what kind of dental care is “average” in Poland these days?)

      Alice Mary

      1. Melissa Bauer

        about implants

        Dear mary alice
        I myself have one implant and its crowned if i were to redo i waouldnt have had it done it was very expensive and stuff is always getting underneath it my advice is don waste the money!!!

    19. Karen Pollard

      Breaking Amish

      I was relieved to read the TLC program is actually quite fake. What has already been said is true, apparently. They have not been affiliated with the Amish or Mennonite communities in quite some time.

      I was actually relieved to read this because I was so shocked at the way they acted and talked.

      As for braces,no, I never wore them, but all three of my children did.
      For one, his teeth were as straight as could be but it was to correct his bite. My older daughter had a very small mouth, but large teeth, so the braces were used to help her permanent teeth come in straight. With each successive child, I was told I was being given a discount. However, with rising prices, each time it was more and more expensive. I felt it was well worth it.

    20. Rita

      Due to “economy”, I suppose, my parents didn’t get me braces when I was a kid. By the time I was in my late 30’s, my teeth were so crooked they were hard to keep clean, looked awful and were getting worse. I had 8 teeth pulled (at one time!) and had braces for 3 years to align everything where they should be. There was no embarrassment at all – adults don’t tease and give you nicknames like kids would do – plus I was motivated to take care of them properly since I was paying for them. I’ve worn my retainer faithfully for the past 15 years and actually get nice comments about my smile – something that never happened before braces!

    21. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Pullin' teeth

      While visiting a relative in a nursing home a neighbor man strolled by and casually with a straight face said “anyone interested in having their teeth pulled? I can do it, and I’ll do it for free!”
      “No thanks, my teeth are clean, so I’m okay.” I said.

      A little while later his wife came by and I told her about the comical incident and she laughed but apologized, and I said it was alright because that place needs some humor sometimes, and his comment was perfect at that moment.

    22. OldKat

      No, but I should have ...

      Well Erik, glad you are back … I was going through AA withdrawal!Glad you enjoyed your vacation though.

      I didn’t have braces, but when I was about 12 years old our dentist said I was right on the verge of needing them as I had a condition whereby the upper teeth on the right side angled in such that the lower teeth were actually out slightly further than the uppers. If this was the front teeth I guess it would be an underbite.

      When I was about 16 I had a friend forge my father’s signature on a parental release form so I could ride (very loosely used term)a bareback bronc at a local rodeo. Unfortunately, the mare I drew stumbled in the far corner the fence line and I did a face plant into the pipe fence right on the part of my mouth where I already had a problem. I knew my folks didn’t have the money to fix my teeth so I made up some hokey story about why my face was all swollen and bruised, but never said anything about my teeth. That was a bad idea, as it only made a bad situation even worse.

      Our son was fortunate that he inherited nice, straight and evenly spaced teeth from his mother. Our daughter needed minimal braces for about 2 years, but as far as I know she never caught any real flack from other kids about it. She is 29 now, so braces were fairly common in our area by then.

      1. Great to be back, thanks Oldkat and everyone else. I’m enjoying these tooth tales.

    23. Adair

      Im glad to hear about the dentures. I have somewhat crooked and noticeably imperfect teeth, and i think that the movie star teeth we see so often look unnatural, but…..About a year ago, I had a very pleasant encounter with a kind and friendly family at their roadside stand in Ethridge TN. One of the young adult members of the family came out at one point -a cheerful and energetic young woman who looked to be maybe 30-ish. She was missing all her front teeth ., and the bicuspids seem to have turned forward and were very prominent. It was heartbreakingly disfiguring , and I would imagine a real challenge for eating. Now I’m hoping that she had dentures and just didn’t have them in at the time! ( but I doubt it)

    24. Ed

      The unlicensed “Amish dentists” reminded me of the street-corner dentists that are common in India. Judging from some videos of their work that are online, they appear to know what they are doing, but sanitation on a street corner is sorely lacking. Similarly, I’ve personally encountered “working poor” people in both America and Asia who have chosen to get dentures rather than deal with an increasing (and increasingly expensive) number of tooth problems and/or pain.

      Take care of your teeth, folks. You get only one set for your entire adult life.

    25. Naomi Wilson

      My grandfather had all his teeth pulled as a teenager so he could get dentures and qualify for the armed forces, just in time to go oversees in WWII.
      On the other hand, there is plenty of research indicating that adequate nutrition prevents both tooth decay and crooked teeth, but it is necessary over multiple generations. Google the Weston A Price Foundation.

    26. sarah

      Funny story … an amish friend called me last night. His girl needed a ride this morning. I have a cold right now so my ears are plugged. I thought he said she needed to “pull some teats”. Ok, i figured they needed to help the farmer out with milking. I’ve heard that terminolgy used before. So i went to pick her up. And her mother and brother. The mother said it would only be half an hour. And then the proceeded into the house. That’s when it dawned on me that i misheard what the father said… half an hour later the 2 kids came out, not smiling… sorry, if i’m gonna get a tooth pulled, there better be lots of novacaine…

    27. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I decided I am going to post here a second time, with a couple of notes on teeth and dentures.

      I don’t know about the Amish, but from the point of view of my parents, braces and such aren’t needed unless it was absolutely needed. I do have a tooth that is slightly off the rest of the teeth in my head, but since it’s behind one of the front two, it isn’t all that noticeable. Despite my dreaming, I have yet to become an actor who needs a perfect set of teeth, and besides, if I died in a fire, the one stray tooth may serve as an identifier, I always joked anyway.

      Myself, I’m more concerned with preventing cavities and gingivitis and other things like that than the precise alignment of my teeth, I feel I’ve done okay, I’ve never had my teeth knocked out or rotten away, so I am happy.

      That being said, when I was a kid I enjoyed the novelty of my grandmothers’ (both Mom’s Mom and Dad’s Mom) dentures and that of my aunt and uncle (my Dad’s eldest brother and sister), I remember seeing someone’s teeth come out and being amazed at the sight, I wasn’t a softy genteel kid, ha.

      Sorry if I repeated myself, I don’t recall what I might of posted earlier, I just spotted the story of the dear old man who offered to pull teeth.

      Did anyone in the Amish America group ever try to pull their tooth by tying a string to a door knob and yanking?

      1. I’ve never tried this Shom, though may have been close a time or two. It always struck me as the Tom-and-Jerry way of tooth removal, not sure how well it works in reality 🙂

    28. Adam

      Forgive me if this has been asked before, but do the Amish/Mennonites brush their teeth? If they do, do they use store bought products or make their own?

      1. Linda

        Amish Teeth Brushing

        Adam, Probably Amish people only brush the teeth they wish to keep!
        I have brushed my teeth in Amish homes in various ways. Without running water, following their example, a glass of water was taken outside to brush with. At one home with running water, an extra sink along the upstairs hallway was perfect for teeth brushing and hand washing; the children’s toothbrushes were kept in a holder there.

        Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away!

    29. Portland Braces

      Excellent explanation, it’s simple & focus

    30. T.Ruth

      Teeth Toxicity

      Please everyone read about toxicity of metal filling/root canals etc. I have lived through this… I recommend reading any of the late Hal Huggins books or visiting Dr Blanche Grube site(she’s in Scranton PA.I had my dental revision with her 29 yrs. ago…