They say a smile is worth a thousand words. Now, we don’t know about words, but lately, it seems like smiles are worth thousands of dollars for sure.
Tooth jewellery has become all the rage recently. A phenomenon that was for the most part popular among a few specific cultural groups, has now been catapulted to the core of mainstream trends. This has caused quite an uproar among those who denounce this happening as the latest incidence of cultural appropriation. The thing is, while it is true that tooth jewellery was first brought into fashion by the Black community in the ’80s, and then revived by hip-hop artists in the early 2000s, its origins date way back.
Tooth jewellery is older than Jesus
As it turns out, the first piece of tooth jewellery identified in human history belonged to the Etruscans in the year 7BC. The Etruscan civilization roamed the Tuscan region of Italy between 800BC and 200 BC, and wealthy members of their society would weave gold wire into their dentures, intertwining the precious metal with their teeth. Fun fact, goldsmiths would take care of these cosmetic procedures, not dentists!
The Mayans were also known to dabble in the practice of tooth jewellery, effectively having tooth piercings where they would drill holes in their teeth that could be up to 3mm wide and fill them in with jade. Jade fillings served as a sort of wealth spectrum, the lighter the jade the richer the wearer. Dental jewellery was so much more than a fashion statement to the Mayans. Crop fertility, abundant rains, and prosperity were often attributed to precious stones being encrusted in dental jewellery.
Funny how humanity gravitated towards tooth jewellery as a status symbol for centuries, and how we continue to naturally do so. Because we doubt that hip-hop and rap artists in the ’80s were purposefully paying homage to ancient civilizations by donning gold, silver, and diamond tooth jewels.
The revival of a dental jewellery
Younger generations have been avidly burning through naughties and early 2000s trends like wildfire. With the spotlight beaming on Y2K fashion at the moment. The only difference today is, while before tooth jewellery was really more popular among artists such as Nelly or Kanye West, with an utterly inaccessible price point, today the mainstream public can actually afford to partake in the trend.
Tooth gems and dental jewellery have been democratised, and are now widely understood as a form of self-expression. Celebrities have boasted about their 200k grills, but you can find designers that will sell pieces from anywhere between 100USD to 500USD for simple designs. Moreover, if you’re looking for something a little daintier and subtle to get into the world of tooth jewellery, tooth gems and crystal glass stones are a great way in as well as a more affordable option.
Grills and tooth gems today as an artform
Much like the Mayans, designers today have taken tooth jewellery and made it about so much more than status and wealth, they have turned it into an art form.
Designer Joshua Myszczynski for example seeks to imbue delicacy, spontaneity, and affability into the grills he designs. Clova Rae-Smith‘s tooth jewellery explores her capacity for self-expression as she breaks through the traditional confines of jewellery as a whole. The Suki Collective began fitting tooth gems as an emergency move to make money during the pandemic, and it has now evolved into a thriving business with a burgeoning public. Jay Yeom designs the most (literally) jaw-dropping designs for your smile from Seoul, South Korea, and artist Juanita of Juanita Care has managed to capture the exact point where fear and desire intersect with her enthralling grills, extending into mouth jewellery.
Whether it’s horror, fantasy, wealth, status, cuteness, style, or uniqueness that you wish to portray, tooth jewellery may well be the way to make that statement. The Etruscans and the Mayans knew that tooth jewellery could make it rain, so who are we to contradict them?