Exploring the History of Tooth Candy

Masks hijacking the accessory game has reminded many of how much expression resides in the mouth. The mandatory need to sheath our faces has resulted in endless options of mask designs to accommodate damn near everyone’s preferred method of drip. As impactful, historic, and iconic the face mask has become in exploring the art of communication, grills remain a top contender for saying less, and shining more.

Grills have vanished and resurrected throughout human history. The genesis of introducing precious metal to tooth is said to have spawned in ancient Egypt, but archaeologists’ updated research points to elite Etruscan women for laying the blue print for the cultural phenomenon of grills. The cosmetic addition involving getting teeth removed then wired together wasn’t only aesthetically pleasing, it reflected the relative social and economic equality Etruscan women shared with males. Their smiles a display of their privilege.


Teeth enhancements resurfaced again in the Mayans from 300 to 900 AD. It was customary for Mayan royalty to drill small holes in their teeth, and fill it with round pieces of jade. It was believed that jade could absorb the souls of the dead, and placed in the mouths of the deceased if the perished ones family could afford it.

Gold sluggas resurged for another lifetime via the orbit of Black Americans. New York in the 70s and 80s was met with a tidal wave of West Indian immigrants who cracked the city’s concrete code with a heavy dose of gold. The swanky kids had a pair as a way to show their stature, like the ancient Mayans and Etruscans before them. The Afro-Surinamese Eddie Plein is credited as the originator of the gold removable fronts. He designed extravagant grills for rap legends like  OutKast, Goodie Mob, the Ying Yang Twins, Lloyd, Ludacris, Lil Jon, and more.

Photo: Eddie Plein

The early 2000s emphasized full body bling from belly button rings to chunky baguettes. Nelly’s “Grillz” music video featured over 70 close up shots of some crucial oral ornaments solidifying their American reemergence.

Black culture electrifies everything it comes into contact with, procuring national, and worldwide ripples in fashion trends. Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, the Kardashian-Jenner clan, and others have marauded the statement piece to vivify their image. They’re not only a material accessory, but a supernatural talisman. South African spirituality contends that gold represents the light, and will scare away evil spirits like the Tikoloshe. South African kids as young as twelve are fitted for gold teeth. Famous actors wear them on the red carpet, Olympians wear them during award ceremonies, and rich high school girls wear them to prom.

Black women worldwide seem to have the most persuasive pull on trends. Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok feeds are flooded with black women and girls flashing teeth gems, gold caps, glacial fangs, and more. Grills have an omnipotent quality to them. They’re crystallized as a form of identity communication, and expression. They are undeniably rock n’ roll. They embody the totality of life, death, resurrection and taste.

What better way to talk your shit and manifest simultaneously with gold, platinum, diamonds, and precious stones being the last thing your words encounter before escaping your lips?


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