Science + Tech

History and risks of bejeweled teeth

Blinged-out or bejeweled teeth aren’t just a modern-day fashion trend. Its origin dates to 800-200 B.C., when the Etruscan civilization in the Tuscan region of ancient Italy modified their teeth to signify wealth and health. 

Through archeologists and different studies, the first evidence of embellished teeth dates to 7 B.C., as wealthy Etruscan women removed their anterior natural dentition so goldsmiths could weld them together with gold bands or replace them with ivory carved teeth. 

In addition to the Etruscans, the Mayan Empire (300 to 900 B.C.) in Mexico and Central America modified and decorated their dentition with grooves, notches and jade, a semiprecious stone. These beautifiers were a way of recognizing and celebrating crops’ fertility, a sign of wealth, and those who were nurturers. 

Etruscans and Mayans would have a “dentist” and a goldsmith working side-by-side to remove teeth or drill holes approximately 3 to 4 millimeters wide to make social and economic statements. Etruscans modified their teeth to what is now considered grills as a sign of power and wealth. The lighter the color of the jade-filled tooth, the wealthier the Mayan’s nobility and family. These traditions paved the path for rap artists to customize their dentition with golden grills and jewelry.   

As early as the 1980s, English-American rapper Slick Rick debuted with the release of his album “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.” However, his music career was not the only thing that debuted that decade. So did the popularity of wearing grills and tooth adornments. Slick Rick became a fashion icon and revolutionized hip-hop artists and dentistry as he kickstarted the monetization of temporary golden crowns and removable golden grills. Since then, rappers and singers like Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry and Usher acquired custom-made mouthpieces valued from $50 to more than $50,000. The value depends on the material used, the ornaments (gold versus diamonds), and how many teeth to replace. 

Grills and bejeweled teeth cover the upper and lower anterior teeth as “an alternative piece of jewelry” and as “an expression of who they are… what they represent,” according to rapper Paul Wall in a 2005 interview by the Orlando Sentinel. Bejeweled teeth have passed through many evolutions and meanings and continue to be a fashion trend.  

For dental students, it’s important to know the risks of receiving bejeweled teeth from a certified dentist versus a “do-it-yourself” kit that doesn’t know the vitality of the tooth structure and how non-biocompatible materials can harm natural dentition. 

A tooth ornament or gem is a small rhinestone that is attached to a tooth surface using a biocompatible and non-hazardous adhesive that should be applied by a certified dentist and maintained by a patient’s appropriate and consistent oral hygiene. Risks of bejeweled teeth include wearing away the enamel and increasing food accumulation and, therefore, plaque formation, creating a higher chance of developing caries. Bejeweled teeth may also cause discolored areas under and around the tooth and even possible tooth decay if not applied by a dentist. 

On the other hand, grills are constructed out of materials that are biocompatible with the oral cavity. However, if executed incorrectly and without adequate medical history records, grills can harm gums and cause irritation due to impingement of gingiva or allergies to nickel-base metal. Regular and appropriate cleaning of removable grills can prevent plaque accumulation and tooth enamel deterioration. 

People who want to hop on this fashion trend should visit their dentist to learn about the possible outcomes of ornamenting their teeth and to receive a secure and protected procedure.

~ Marielys Sarriera Valentín, Puerto Rico ’24 

Marielys Sarriera Valentin

Marielys Sarriera Valentín, Puerto Rico ’24, is the vice president of the University of Puerto Rico, School of Dental Medicine’s ASDA chapter. She aims to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

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