“Say Cheese” is Passé, “Say Bling” is Here – The Evolution of Dental Jewelry: A Review
Dental modifications have been seen throughout most of history. In the past modifications were done for a variety of reasons. In a review published in December 2016 in the Journal of Advanced Oral Research, the authors review the evolution of dental modifications including jewelry, ablation, and intentional tooth removal for social and religious beliefs.1
Some dental modifications seen in African culture included the use of obsidian tools to create “v”, “T”, and “H” shapes in teeth, also in some cases drilling of the buccal surface and encrusting them with precious metals and gemstones have been discovered. Staining and dying of surrounding tissue were practiced to “differentiate themselves from dogs and to fight dental caries”.
Historically, anterior teeth were removed for multiple reasons including to assist in feeding individuals in case of lock jaw due to tetanus in the future, to better operate blowpipes, and to help with proper speech assisting in the characteristic ‘lisp’ in some languages.
In some tribes having gold on teeth showcased wealth and power. It symbolized high status and commanded respect from others. Many of these modifications are believed to render self-identity, others are believed to be a marker of group cohesion and tribal identity. In some tribes, these modifications are considered a “rite of passage” during certain ceremonies.
These dental modifications were not without risk. Considering local anesthetics were virtually non-existent, the procedure and complications could be quite excruciating. Complications include infection, tooth loss, pain, difficulty in mastication, and bacterial encephalitis. Death is also a possible outcome.
Some of these modifications done throughout history may seem a little strange, however, consider that dental modifications are still seen often. Such modern modifications include orthodontic treatment, veneers, bleaching, tooth jewelry, tooth tattoos, tooth rings, grills, and multiple oral piercings.
Researchers point out that youth are much more accepting of body art than older generations. The research shows possible reasons why people opt for dental jewelry is emotional distress and as an artistic and unique expression of oneself. The primary reasons are self-identity and the need to feel unique. Though it has been suggested that any type of body modification can be associated with the “Costly Signaling Theory”. This theory suggests individuals use signals that are costly to show strength fitness and beauty to would-be mates.
The unfortunate problem being seen is the placement of this different dental jewelry is done by people other than oral health professionals. This can cause substantial risk to the individual having the jewelry placed. This puts an added responsibility to oral healthcare providers to educate patients on the various complications that might arise.
The authors concluded, “Dental jewelry has evolved a long way from prehistoric times and is here to stay. It is important for dental professionals to be geared to the changing times and keep themselves updated to be able to cater to and satiate the aesthetic needs of the individuals. It must also be understood that in the world of dental jewelry, the line between aesthetics and potential risks can be very thin given the risks associated with invasive jewelry piercings.”
- Joys, D. N. P., Karuppaiah, D. R. M., Garla, D. B. K., Taranath, D. M., & Pandian, D. R. P. (2016). “Say Cheese” is Passé, “Say Bling” is Here – The Evolution of Dental Jewelry: A Review. Journal of Advanced Oral Research, 7(3), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1177/2229411220160301
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