What do Madonna, Beyonce, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have in common? They belong to a long list of celebrities who wear grills—an ostentatious and disturbing fashion trend that could harm your teeth if you’re not careful.
Grills, which are also called grillz, front or golds, are jewelry worn over the teeth. These removable or permanent decorations are made either of silver, gold or platinum. Some are decorated with precious stones and may have 24 karat gold. Grills made of gold may have a yellow, white or rose color. Depending on the materials used and how many teeth are covered, they can cost thousands of dollars.
Grills were first used by hip hop artists in the 1980s and became popular in the mid-2000s. New Yorker Eddie Plein, owner of Eddie’s Gold Teeth, is believed to have started the trend. He made gold grills for rappers Flavor Flav, Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap.
By 2006, grills were worn by many 18- to 35-year-old African American male hip-hop listeners. It was once believed that these expensive fashion accessories would fade with time. However, that is not the case today where they are used by people of all races. Even celebrities who have no connection whatsoever with hip hop culture are into grills.
At the MTV Video Music Awards, for instance, Rihanna wore a mini-grill shaped like a diamond cross that was wedged between her two front teeth. Katy Perry did the same with jeweled grills that spelled the title of her single “Roar.” Elsewhere, Beyonce looked like the bride of Dracula with her fang-like grills.
The practice of wearing grills may look new but it dates back thousands of years. National Geographic reported that the Maya peoples and Native Americans wore these flashy decorations 2,500 years ago. Ancient teeth that are housed in Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History revealed that these people had an advanced knowledge of dentistry and beautified their teeth with semi-precious stones.
Anthropologist José Concepción Jiménez said grills were often worn by males from all walks of life. Researchers said the early dentists probably used a drill-like device with a hard stone to decorate teeth. Pain was blocked by a herb-based anesthetic and the stones were glued by an adhesive made of natural resins combined with other chemicals.
For now, there are no studies that show that grills are dangerous but their safety with long-term use remains unknown. Removable grills that are cleaned regularly pose no problems as long as the person is not allergic to the materials used.
However, grills made from non-precious metals may cause irritation. Others may interfere with proper brushing and flossing, and create a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. They may give you bad breath and wear out the enamel of other teeth.
To avoid this, don’t wear grills for a long time and don’t use them while eating. Clean them daily to remove bacteria and food debris. Don’t use jewelry cleaners or any product to clean them that you wouldn’t normally put in your mouth.
Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the dean of the National University College of Dentistry, president & CEO of Dr. Smile Dental Care & Laser Center and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy and the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or text 0917-8591515.