The Y2K movement has just spawned another revival and this time it’s in the form of sparkling tooth gems, seen all over social media and on celebrities from Marc Jacobs to Iris Law. The trend is exactly what it sounds like: tiny rhinestones, charms or crystals bonded to the enamel with an adhesive as non-invasive oral decorations and a semi-permanent way to add some extra shine to your smile. Over on TikTok, #toothgem has racked up over 147 million views with some young creators driving dentists crazy by flaunting bejewelled grins DIY-ed at home.
These mouth adornments are nothing new. Though its latest resurgence has been most associated with the ‘90s (when it comes to Gen Z, what isn’t?), the decorative practice extends back to ancient Mayan civilisations. From about 300 CE to 900 CE, kings and queens used to drill holes in their teeth and fill them with jade to augment their appearance and assert social status. The lighter coloured the jade, the wealthier the wearer. While cosmetic dentistry has continued within Hispanic cultures, other societies around the world also took part in the form of beautification across different points in time, from the gold-pegged teeth of tribes in the Philippines to unearthed Ming Dynasty skulls displaying intricate fish scale patterns as tooth enhancements.
It wasn’t until the ’80s that smile-inducing accessories emerged in American popular culture in the form of gold caps and grills, alongside the rise of hip-hop. While its earliest predecessor was worn by rich Etruscan women, grills were popularised by the Black American community with notable rappers and artists like Big Daddy Kane and Flava Flav of Public Enemy sporting custom mouth bling created by New York jeweller Eddie Plein. In 2005, the dental trend went mainstream with Nelly’s hit single ‘Grillz‘, which was accompanied by a music video that showed the rapper surrounded by models and guys parading around with jewel-encrusted teeth.
Since then, opulent mouth jewellery has spilt across the music scene and expanded into mainstream celebrity culture. In recent years, everyone from Madonna and Miley Cyrus to Rihanna and Katy Perry has taken their turn with the trend; the latter wore a gemstone-and-diamond-encrusted grill that currently holds the Guinness world record as the most valuable one yet at the hefty price of US$1 million. In 2017, Adwoa Aboah made her debut as the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty with a gold charm adorning her left front tooth––a now signature look for the model. Meanwhile, a debate was sparked on Twitter as the wave of celebrity teeth bling grew, with people calling out tone-deaf news stories and stars who deemed the accessory as something entirely new.
Today, teeth jewellery has grown beyond just an unattainable wealth flex. In the hands of Gen Z, the art of mouth adornments have become a more accessible form of self-expression. From singular gems to charms and multi-coloured crystals in all shapes and forms, pimped out smiles now come in diverse appearances that allow people to show off their personality and style. Over the last year, plenty of tooth gem artists have popped up across Instagram to offer custom creations with some reimagining accessories to take dentures to a whole new level. While jewellery designer Clova Rae-Smith approaches the art form with a sculptural twist, makeup artist Lisa Machalik has been experimenting with dreamy marbled ornaments to create teeth modifications that challenge traditional beauty standards.
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