While dental modifications are usually used to restore teeth to their natural appearance, some trends seek a stylized look that is far from natural. These trends—like grills and teeth whitening—may seem modern, but they actually have roots going back thousands of years.
To give you an idea of how far dental procedures have come, and how old some of them are, check out the surprising history of these three dental modification trends.
Tooth Whitening Was Started 4000 Years Ago by the Ancient Egyptians
Graduates of intra-oral dental assistant training may know that teeth whitening is the most common cosmetic dentistry procedure. What they might not know is that it’s been around for a long time. In 2000 BC, Ancient Egyptians whitened their teeth using ground pumice mixed with wine vinegar, while Ancient Romans used urine (yes, urine!) to bleach their teeth. Today, white teeth are still widely sought after, although the procedures involved are quite different from those of the past.
However, not all cultures have historically thought of white teeth as desirable. The Vikings, for example, stained their teeth with red resin as a way of frightening their enemies. And until the end of the 1800s in Japan, married women dyed their teeth black in a practice called ohaguro. While ohaguro was a social custom, it actually also protected against tooth decay.
Mayan Jade Inlays Have a Lot in Common with the Inlays Seen by Grads of Dental Assistant School
When you go to intra-oral dental assistant school, you’ll learn about prosthodontics, such as inlays and onlays. Today inlays are commonly used to restore damaged teeth, but inlays have actually been around for thousands of years and not always for tooth restoration. From 300 AD to 900 AD Maya royalty affixed jade inlays to the front of their teeth. These inlays were worn because the green colour of jade was symbolic of agriculture and sustenance. By wearing jade inlays, Mayan royals were symbolically taking on responsibility for feeding their people.
Grills Are a Dental Modification that Can Be Traced Back Thousands of Years
Modern grills (or grillz), which are decorative covers for teeth embellished with gold, diamonds, and other precious stones, are one of the most popular dental modification trends today. Mayan jade inlays are a precursor to modern grills, but they are far from the only one. For example, Etruscans (who lived in Italy from 88 BC to 200 BC) actually invented grills by weaving gold wire into their teeth. The practice was mainly done by rich Etruscan women to flaunt their social status.
Modern grills, however, take root in the 1970s in the West Indies, where gold caps were common. As people from the West Indies immigrated to North America—primarily New York City—these gold caps were adopted and embellished by hip hop artists in the 1980s. As hip hop became more mainstream from the 1990s onwards, celebrities like Katy Perry, Madonna, and Beyoncé started sporting them as status symbols, much like Etruscan women did more than 2000 years ago!
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