How to make a statement with your teeth.
Grillz. Those flashy, gauche ornamentations for teeth worn by gangsta rappers and various celebrities. You might think they’re a relatively recent thing, but in actual fact, they have a long history dating back to the BC era and through the centuries to modern times.
A History Of Grillz
Dental ornamentation is certainly not a new concept, quite the opposite, in fact. In an archaeological excavation near Giza in Egypt, two mummified individuals from approximately 2,500 BC were found with gold wire binding their teeth. There was no evidence of dental health issues so the presumption by archaeologists and Egyptologists alike were that it was some form of pendant denoting a regal social status.
There has also been evidence found of dental accessories as a social status symbol found in remains of both Mayan (circa 500-1000 AD) and Etruscan (circa 800–900 BC) civilizations, including the embedding of precious stones into the teeth themselves. So clearly long ago, ornamentation of the teeth represented a special symbolic gesture of elevated status in society.
The Vikings decorated their teeth, not with attached accessories, but by filing the bone into distinct shapes and patterns. This is assumed to have been done not as a symbol of high status but to create a factional group identity.
In the Philippines, local mythology had it that Melu, the creator of everything, had gold teeth so adherents to this belief emulated it by adorning their own teeth with gold pegs around 1300 AD.
Even in the former Soviet Union, where dental healthcare was free, gold was often used to fill cavities and later emerged and expanded to become something of a fashion statement.
So dental ornamentation is not a new thing by any means, but rather a longstanding and highly visible way to convey wealth and status in respective cultures and societies.
The Modern Era
It was in the United States (where else?) that the modern concept of what we now call Grillz started to emerge around the late 1970s. Of the African slaves carried across the Atlantic Ocean to the so-called New World on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, quite a few had gold cavities in their teeth, mostly because it was the cheapest natural metal to do so with.
This developed in the 1970s when, in the wake of the ‘Black Liberation’ political movement, some African-Americans in identifying with their ancestors started adorning their teeth with gold. Many liked the aesthetic quality of this adornment and before long, it had developed into a more elaborate and fashionable accessory that covered the entire dental facade.
It even made its way into movie lore with the murderous henchman called Jaws, adorned with stainless steel teeth, in both the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, and again in 1979’s Moonraker.
This fashion really started taking off in the 1980s with the rise to prominence of so-called ‘gangsta rap’ led by such prominent figures as Nelly, Lil’ Wayne, and Slick Rick. It very quickly became a must-have-item among rappers and their adherents, with increasingly outrageous and outlandish designs in a bid to outdo one another.
Grillz have seemingly entrenched themselves as a constant presence in the entertainment world, worn by actors, musicians, and sports stars of all stripes. The term ‘Grillz’ in reference to the adornment was solidified as a bona fide term in 2005 when Nelly, one of the original progenitors of the grillz in the modern era released the song ‘Grillz’ and immortalized the name thereafter.
In fact, so prominent did they become that school districts in the U.S. states of Texas, Alabama, and Georgia issued formal bans on any student wearing them on school premises.
Professional Opinion On Grillz
The American Dental Association carried out a detailed study of the fashion phenomenon and declared itself neutral on whether the adornment had any long-lasting health detriments. The ADA stated that, in their professional opinion, so long as the grill fit the individual teeth structure properly, was only worn intermittently (with long-term wearing allowing bacteria to accumulate behind the attachment and potentially cause gum disease or tooth decay), and that the grillz themselves weren’t made from base metals such as gold, silver, and copper, then they saw no pressing reason they couldn’t be worn.
Grillz, to use their modern colloquialism, have been around for over four millennia (that we know of) and will likely continue into the future, with a lasting allure that has transcended culture, fashion, nationality, and even tribal shifts.