Hip-hop culture has been responsible for introducing cool trends to the world for a long time. Let’s think back. LL Cool J gave us the Kangol, RunDMC made us look at shell toes, and Jay-Z introduced us to the Maybach. These are just a few, but there are of course, many other examples to list. Hip-hop’s powerful influence made dentistry look cool too. I’m talking about spreading the popularity of having gold teeth.
Seeing someone with gold teeth is not such an uncommon thing these days no matter what side of the country or globe you live on. You can easily find pictures of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Future, Madonna, Beyonce, 2Chainz, Katy Perry, ASAP Rocky and many others wearing replaceable gold grillz when searching the internet. The acceptance of this phenomenon that was for a long time mostly associated with those living in the South exploded onto the scene thanks in part to rappers from Houston, Texas back in the early ‘2000s. Rappers like Paul Wall, Mike Jones, and Slim Thug come to mind. The cultural gravity was so hot during this time, in 2005 Nelly put out a hit song called “Grillz” that was played on radio stations all across the country.
Although many will conclude these rappers helped to make having gold teeth mainstream, they were not the first rappers that could be seen with gold teeth in their mouth. For a longtime big names in hip-hop like Slick Rick, Flavor Flav, Master P, and Wu-Tang were some of the larger names that could be seen in music videos and award shows displaying gold teeth way before the year 2000 hit the calendar. With Master P being one of the most recognizable artists from this list who’s from the south, Louisiana respectively, for many of us that grew up in the Deep South: Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, seeing Master P with his gold teeth was nothing new. It was a way of life.
I remember as a kid growing up in Tennessee, my grandma used to have a gap in her mouth that was filled with gold. My grandfather had two gold teeth in his mouth. He had a gold tooth in his upper and lower part of his mouth. My uncle, a military veteran that served in the Navy, had a shiny gold tooth in his mouth. I thought he was cool. Memphis rap legends 8Ball & MJG had gold teeth. I thought they were cool. One time, I took gold foil from chocolate coin candy, placed it over my teeth and pretended that I had gold teeth. I thought I was cool. For blacks in the south, having gold teeth was a way to demonstrate wealth and significance. It’s been this way for years.
As an early example of gold teeth representing success, look no further than the first African-American heavyweight boxing champ of the world, Jack Johnson. Johnson would hold on to the title of boxing champion from 1908 – 1915 and during his reign, he sported a mouth full of gold teeth and they were as distinguishable as his dominating boxing style. Johnson was born in Galveston, TX and grew up during the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow wasn’t an actual person, but instead it was a set of laws, mostly found in the South that were adopted after the Civil War (1861 to 1865). The laws were meant to prohibit blacks from advancing and promoted segregation. (e.g. separate water fountains for whites and blacks, blacks riding at the back of the bus, school segregation and etc.). Johnson was ahead of his time and he had fun doing it though. The gold in his mouth made him stand out, but it could have served as another purpose too besides just being cosmetic.
As I got older and made visits to the dentist office, I learned about crowns. Here’s what I didn’t know as a little kid admiring my uncles gold tooth, having gold teeth in your mouth is not always cosmetic. Having a gold tooth or teeth can be necessary for maintaining a healthy mouth. A gold tooth is essentially a gold crown or simply a cap. In dentistry, crowns are used to cover a corroding tooth or teeth that are vulnerable to fracturing, discolored, or for a root canal. A crown can be gold or porcelain. The gold used by dentists today is not 100%. It’s usually a mixture of gold, copper, and other alloys. But why gold?
Gold has been used for a very long time in dentistry because:
- Gold is highly resistant to corrosion
- Gold is non-toxic and won’t harm surrounding teeth
- Gold extremely resistance to fracturing and wear
These are really important attributes to have especially when you consider the amount of grinding and exposure our teeth go through. Finding people with gold teeth was not something only found in the South of the United States either. You could find people with gold teeth in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. It’s notoriously known that during the Holocaust, at the Auschwitz concentration camp, Nazi’s pulled gold crowns and fillings from the bodies of Jewish people before the bodies would be moved to crematoriums. The gold pulled was melted down to bullion.
A GOLD CROWN FOR A KING
Gold is malleable. It’s soft enough to be shaped without cracking and it would not be unthinkable to believe blacks during time knew how to mend gold to their benefit. As you could imagine, slaves were probably more often than not, susceptible to having bad teeth. They may have figured like many others before them, one of the best ways to fix their probably was to throw some gold over it. Blacks during this time knew about gold. As a matter of fact, during the California gold rush, many white slave owners from states in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi took slaves with them to mine for gold during the 1800s.
Finding many uses for gold, adding it to teeth for repair and beautification was probably an idea worth trying. But what could have inspired it? As I mentioned before, people in Asian territories had gold teeth too. Finding people from this part of the world in California during the gold rush was reality. But who knows. In my research, I haven’t found a definite link between slaves in California bestowing the concept of putting gold teeth in their mouth and that journey of information traveling back miles and miles to the South and being adapted by black slaves. But, slaves did have gold in their mouth. This has been documented.
Today the popularity of having a gold grill is as strong as ever and there is no shortage of a variety of styles to choose from. You can find diamond encrusted, inscripted and his and her matching sets. You can buy a grill made from gold, silver, or platinum. You can have permanent or temporary. The sky’s the limit and having them can fit almost anyone’s budget.
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