If you’ve scrolled through TikTok lately, you could reasonably assume that tooth piercings (also called tooth gems) are having a moment. The hashtag currently has almost 60 million views on the app and recent research from PolicyBee analyzing nostalgic beauty trends found tooth gems to be a frontrunner in Y2K comebacks.
While they were a major part of 2000s beauty and seem to be having a "resurgence" thanks to TikTok, tooth gems are not a trend. Similar jewelry has long been part of Latinx culture, dating back to the earliest documented examples in the Mayan Empire (they did, in fact, drill into teeth and fill the holes with precious stones).
Tooth jewelry also holds cultural significance in Black history, including grills and caps. Modern grills can be traced back to West Indian immigrants and Black New Yorkers in the ‘70s and ’80s. Eddie Plei is credited as the inventor of the gold removable fronts. As gold teeth continued to rise into the spotlight after Nelly’s Grillz music video (which featured over 70 close-up grill shots), so too did other forms of tooth jewelry.
With the beauty industry’s track record of cultural appropriation, it’s important to recognize the roots of tooth jewelry. Celebrities like Hailey Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Kourtney Kardashian get praised for being “trendy” while wearing them, while tooth jewelry may still be stigmatized on POC. “Sorry but this whole “tooth gems” trend is literally just white people stealing yet another thing from Black culture that they continue to discriminate against when it’s on Black people,” wrote one Twitter user on the “trend”.
With this in mind, there’s no denying that young people at the moment are frantically figuring out ways to bejewel their teeth, even including using at-home kits. We’re here to demystify what tooth piercings are, how long they last, and whether they pose any health risks.
Read on for what a dentist has to say on the topic.
What is a Tooth Piercing?
Tooth piercing is a bit of a misnomer as you don’t drill holes into your teeth, as the name suggests. In fact, you attach jewelry to the tooth’s surface. This can include diamonds, sapphires, rubies, crystals, or Adwoa Aboah’s Chanel logo design. A temporary tooth piercing can last up to six weeks or a semi-permanent which will stay on until you decide to have it removed. Both are reversible and (when done correctly) won’t cause harm to your enamel.
Where to Get a Tooth Piercing
As with all things concerned with your teeth, it’s best to ask your dentist. Dr. Tina Saw DDS, General and Cosmetic Dentist at Elevated Smiles says that she offers gem placements on teeth in her private dental practice in San Diego. “Finding a dentist who can bond it safely and conservatively is key to keeping the gem on long term,” she told NYLON. “Placing gems does not cause permanent damage, and if you ever decide you no longer want the gem, a dentist can easily pop it off without harm.”
While other beauty practitioners do offer the service, Dr. Saw warns us to be wary of anywhere that might not use the correct dental bonding agent that is biocompatible and safe for the mouth. “I would never recommend supergluing or adhering the gem yourself, as allergic reactions or permanent damage to the tooth can occur if utilizing the incorrect material,” she says. So, be wary of DIY kits you see on TikTok.
Tooth Gem Aftercare
Dr. Saw says one of the most important considerations when getting a tooth gem is choosing a smooth stone so that the inside of your lips and mouth don’t get irritated. Once the gem is adhered on, it’s important to brush and floss your teeth like normal. “Any tooth can get a cavity with poor dental care,” she says. “When a cavity occurs around or underneath the gem, it could cause the tooth structure to be soft and make the gem pop off.” Cleanliness is always first, no matter which way you want your smile to shine.