Grillz: The History Behind Those Expensive Smiles

celebrity gold grillDo you know what memes and fashion trends have in common? Heidi Klum puts it best, “One day you’re in. And the next day, you’re out.”

But unlike memes, some fashion trends never really go away. Even the most questionable fashions from past decades seem to find a way to come back. This is because there’s nothing really new in fashion. Everything is cyclical, even grillz.

Yes, grillz. You know, dental bling. Many celebrities have been seen rocking them recently including Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Katy Perry, and Rapper Lil Yachty.

What’s really surprising about this novel fashion accessory is that it has such a rich history behind it. Rappers may have brought them into the mainstream but you can trace its first appearance all the way back to 800 BC.

Etruscans – 800 BC to 200 BC

etruscan gold teeth

If you can admire Kylie Jenner for mastering the art of getting attention, then you’ll surely appreciate what lengths Etruscan women would do for the sake of fashion.

According to Etruscan Gold Dental Appliances: Three Newly ‘Discovered’ Examples, Marshall Joseph Baker’s research paper, affluent Etruscan women had their front teeth deliberately removed to be fitted with a gold band appliance – the earliest example of grills. This served no other purpose than to indicate their high status, much like celebrities nowadays who sport them purely for the stunt factor.

Mayans – 300 AD to 900 AD

Whereas the Etruscans used gold for grills, the Mayans preferred jade. Kings and queens would fit their upper teeth with round pieces of jade, specifically those that are lighter and more translucent in color.

As is the case with Etruscans, dental bling was reserved for the upper crust of the society. Mayans consider jade as a precious stone and a symbol of obligation. Royalty donned these jade dental accessories to send a powerful message about taking care of their people.

Filipinos – 1300 AD

Aside from filing and deliberately blackening their teeth, ancient Filipinos also used a lot of gold to decorate their teeth. The most common way was to drill holes into the teeth and put in gold pegs.

Now, the gold pegs could be fashioned as simply as gold dots or as elaborately as fish scales and intricate bead patterns. Aside from gold pegs, Filipinos also had their teeth wrapped in gold or sported gold caps and plates. If you want to learn more about Filipino dental ornamentation, you can check out VCM or Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces.

Modern Grillz

gold grillz sample

Back in the day, they were called gold fronts, not grillz. This was in the 70s, where gold teeth were considered a fashion statement by native New Yorkers.

By the 80s and 90s, grills were making an appearance in music videos. Think Slick Rick and Flava Flav. In 2005, Nelly released the song “Grillz,” featuring Paul Wall. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bling It!

You probably read about the Dubai dentist who created the world’s most expensive grills.

At $152,700, the set boasts of 160 diamonds and 10 grams of 24-carat gold. There’s no need to drill or fill the teeth, all that’s needed are two appointments, and of course, loads of cash.

But don’t worry, if you’re looking for a more affordable dental bling, you do have options. Ever heard of simulated diamond teeth? They look as flashy as real ones minus the hefty price tag.

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