THE BLOG
07/07/2010 03:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Are "Gold Grillz" I See on Hip Hop Stars?

It has been said that a person's smile is their most valuable asset. While this may be true, there are some people that take this philosophy to the next level. And I'm not just talking about getting your teeth whitened or similar -- I'm talking ornamental cosmetics, such as gold teeth.

You've seen those gold choppers on rap stars, some sports stars, and the like, right? I'm sure you've wondered "Are they real? How did they get them? What's involved?" and similar. Well, read on then, because gold teeth are what we are discussing today.

Gold is a precious metal that has been regarded very highly for thousands of years. The metal has been synonymous with the ranks of royalty and the wealthy elite, and even today, carrying gold on one's person is still regarded as a visible sign of an elevated social status. But while certainly flashy, is it practical to have a mouth full of metal, or is it all just for show?

Gold teeth as a fashion symbol initially became prominent in the US during the 1960's, but really came into their own in the 1980's with the emergence of the rap and hip hop scene. The style has been immortalized by such rappers as Lil John, Nelly and Flava Flav.

Generally speaking, most "gold teeth" you see on MTV really aren't full teeth. It's more a slip-on cover. The "Gold Grill" (as it's known) is a custom fit prosthetic that slips over a person's regular teeth, giving the impression that they have a mouth full of "bling bling". Many of these grills are not permanent, being applied to the mouth with a special glue, and is used for stage theatrics or to make a social statement to one's peers/fans. These accessories range from a full covering over the upper and/or lower set of teeth, or just a singular cap. When it's time to change a style, they can be easily removed.

If a mouth full of gold teeth isn't enough to impress, people can "step up their game" by customizing their mouth jewelry, ranging from simply having a higher quality gold, or adding gemstones such as diamonds or sapphires, text, or even flashing lights. Depending on the price range, people can choose between having silver, gold, or platinum grills. For those feeling a little supernatural, there are even solid gold vampire fangs! Truly, the only limits to these decorative status symbols are a person's imagination.

Purchasing/getting fit with a grill isn't an instantaneous process. Everyone's mouth is different, and, like any other dental work, a special set will need to be customized to fit a person's mouth. For starters, a dental impression will need to be made of the mouth. This impression creates a specific mold of a person's mouth, so that when the grill is slipped over the actual teeth, it sets into place and fits properly. This customization process can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

It is also important to purchase quality materials. Depending on the quality of the metal and how extensive you want your gold smile, gold teeth can cost a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. Fake gold is well known, but is not recommended for the mouth, due to its ease in tarnishing (plus, having a mouth full of rust is not only bad for one's image, it can also lead to some very damaging infections.)

Gold grills should also not be used for anything other than a decoration, as they aren't designed to cap teeth or repair cavities like a regular filling. Long term usage isn't recommended, as bacteria can build up between the spaces between the grill and the actual teeth, causing bad breath and tooth decay. So it's a definite "ongoing process" for the people that sport them -- they are likely in and out of their cosmetic dentist's office quite often.

Other than the "Grills" I just mentioned, there is a practical, long-term application for gold in the mouth, and that's as a simple cavity filling or a crown. For starters, the durability of gold is very high, which makes it more resistant to corrosion, easier to remove plaque, and can tolerate the wear and tear of chewing and biting. A gold filling can outlast almost any other kind. Considering that fillings wear out and weaken over time, using gold to fill a cavity means that it's going to take a lot longer before any replacements will need to be made. And crowns speak for themselves -- regular porcelain crowns last a long time, and so do gold crowns. But a gold crown just might be the look you're after, so if you want to experiment with a "permanent" gold tooth in a practical sense, well, there you go.

In the end, if a person wants to make a bold fashion statement, nothing has a more "notice me now" presence than a mouth full of golden teeth. While having a gold grill may have started as a fad, and may not be for everyone, the style has endured. These gilded choppers have become a part of our popular culture, fashion style, and even the subject of a few rap songs, and look to inspire the next wave of urban artists. And as a cosmetic dentist, I find that it's an interesting way keeping it "real," and I have to admit, seeing gold teeth always makes me smile.

Until next time, keep smiling.