Grills worn over teeth may have been made fashionable recently by Madonna and Miley Cyrus and before them by hip hop artists, but tooth ornamentation is nothing new. The urge to decorate teeth has been around for thousands of years.
Having gold and precious gems inlaid into your teeth was considered to be a symbol of wealth and high social standing by the Ancient Mayans. They boasted extremely skillful craftsmen who created spectacular incrustations, using jade, turquoise and gold. Jade was especially prized and thought to be a gift from the gods.
The people of Borneo, known as The Ibans, blackened and filed their front teeth to beautify themselves, they also drilled holes in the middle of each tooth and placed a brass stud, all in the name of vanity.
Embellishing teeth with jewellery and gold has never really died out among some communities. In Central America, especially Guatemala, there is a long and sophisticated history of teeth ornamentation. According to the Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society, 65% of Guatemalans wear gold dental decorations. And, if they don’t have gold teeth, they want them. And, in modern day Tajikistan, gold teeth are considered a symbol of social status.
Twinkles, tiny tooth jewels, are still fashionable today, with celebrities like Sporty Spice and Simply Red star Mick Hucknell flashing a small diamond in one of their central incisors.
In many countries and eras, from the Ancient Mayans to today, tooth ornamentation has been fashionable at various times. It’s tempting to ask: Is tooth decoration wired into our cultural identities?