Updated on February 8, 2024
7 min read

Dental Grills on Teeth: Everything You Need to Know

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Over the past 20 years, dental grills have become more widely known due to their popularity in hip-hop culture. They’re the dental equivalent of a diamond ring or gold chain, making smiles a display of wealth.

Gold grills 3d render

In this article, we’ll talk about the history of grills and the process of making and fitting them. We’ll also discuss some of the potential risks associated with grills.

What are Teeth Grills?

Grills or “fronts” are a form of dental jewelry, often made from gold, silver, or platinum. In many cases, they’re inlaid with diamonds or other gemstones.

Earlier grills involved grinding down teeth to fit crowns. However, most grills today are metal veneers that fit over teeth without reshaping.

Types and Styles of Grills

Dental grills can differ according to several variables:

  • Material — The base material of grills can be pure gold, white, or rose gold (alloys made from gold and other metals to give a different color), silver, platinum, or another alloy.
  • Settings — Many grills are set with diamonds, sapphires, or other precious stones. A honeycomb pattern, channel setting (arranged in a line), and other patterns are available.
  • Other style and color options — Some grills have features like painted enamel, custom engravings, or an open-face window to show the tooth underneath.
  • Teeth covered — Grills can cover a single tooth or all teeth in a person’s mouth. Pricing is often quoted per tooth.

Historical and Cultural Background

Various forms of decorative tooth modification have existed throughout history. 

For example:1,2

  • Among the ancient Etruscans, wealthy women would sometimes have their front teeth removed to fit gold replacements
  • The ancient Maya drilled holes in their teeth and filled them with jade
  • In medieval Japan, many aristocrats dyed their teeth black with a mixture of vinegar, tannin, and iron shavings

Modern grills have a more recent origin.1, 3 They emerged from the gold teeth that became fashionable in the early hip-hop scene in New York City. Rappers from the NYC area, like Slick Rick and Flavor Flav, sported gold crowns in the 1980s and 1990s.

Later in the 1990s, jewelry designer Johnny Dang and rapper Paul Wall, both based in Houston, began to commission grills. Their bejeweled smile designs were more elaborate than gold teeth, and some cost thousands of dollars.

Grills had become more widely known by the mid-2000s, partly thanks to rapper Nelly’s 2005 single “Grillz” (which featured Wall). Since then, athletes and other people outside of hip-hop have been seen wearing them. 

How are Grills Manufactured and Fitted?

Most grills are designed around your natural teeth so that they fit snugly but can be removed at any time. A grill that isn’t custom-fitted is likely to be uncomfortable and may be more difficult to put on and take off.

When you order a dental grill, the production process will resemble the following:

  1. Impression — First, you’ll need to make an impression (mold) of your teeth. You can have impressions made by your dentist, but some grill makers offer DIY impression kits to use at home.
  2. Modeling — Once you’ve made the mold, it’ll be used to make a three-dimensional plaster cast of your teeth. Then a wax grill model will be made to fit the cast.
  3. Production — Using the wax model, the metal structure of the real grill will be created. Any jewel setting, engraving, or other features will be applied afterward.
  4. Polishing and finishing — The grill will be polished and ready for wear. Final alterations may be made if you have any fitting issues.

What are the Dental Risks of Grills?

Because a grill is ultimately a foreign object that spends time in your mouth, it can pose dental health issues. Knowing how and why these issues arise will help you prevent them.

Tooth Decay and Hygiene Concerns

Wearing grills for a long time can cause plaque and bacteria to accumulate underneath them. 

Food debris can also become trapped behind the grill, adding to the problem. This is especially a risk with permanent installments, as you won’t be able to clean your natural teeth with a toothbrush or floss. 

Severe tooth decay is a major risk if you fail to clean the teeth under your grill regularly. You’ll also be at risk for gum disease.

Allergic Reactions and Material Sensitivity

The soft tissues of your mouth can be sensitive to certain kinds of metal. For example, it’s not uncommon to have a gold allergy.4

Having a metal you’re allergic to in your mouth for prolonged periods can lead to contact stomatitis. This is when the gums, and possibly the lips, become inflamed.

If you notice symptoms of an allergy, contact your dentist and grill manufacturer. However, to prevent any issues, taking an allergy test before having a grill made is recommended. 

Structural Concerns

The fit of your grill is also a factor that may impact your oral health. Grills that don’t fit properly can cause gum pain, lip irritation, and tooth damage. 

This is another reason to opt for a removable grill over a permanent one. Adjusting the fit of a removable grill is easier and less time-consuming.

Caring for Your Dental Grills

It’s important to care for your grill just like your natural teeth. Proper care will help prevent dental problems and keep your grill looking its best.

Cleaning and Maintenance

To keep your grills clean, do the following after taking them out:

  1. Run the grill under warm water and gently brush it with a soft-bristled toothbrush
  2. Soak the grill in a shallow cup of mouthwash or hydrogen peroxide solution
  3. Run the grill under warm water and brush again
  4. Carefully dry the grill with a soft, clean cloth

You can also polish your grill with a non-toxic jewelry cleaning solution. Just be sure to rinse and dry them afterward.

Temporary vs. Permanent Choices

Removable grills are much easier to care for than permanent ones. The steps above don’t apply to permanent grills.

Permanent grills will require you to use extra care when brushing to avoid causing damage. You’ll also be unable to reach all the surfaces of your natural teeth.

Dentists and grill manufacturers will tend to recommend removable grills. They’re better for safety, health, and convenience.

Common Questions About Teeth Grills

How much do custom grills typically cost?

The cost of a grill varies widely. Basic models that only cover a few teeth typically cost a few hundred dollars, while more elaborate pieces cost over $30,000.

You can expect to pay between $100 and $250 per tooth for authentic gold grills. More expensive grills can cost $1,000 per tooth or more.

Can grills be worn continuously, or should they be removed after a certain period?

Most grills are removable, and it’s best to take advantage of this. Eating, drinking, smoking, and practicing oral hygiene while wearing grills will tend to be impractical or damage the jewelry. It can also harm your oral health.

Are there safer alternatives to traditional metal grills?

Most grills are made with gold, silver, or platinum. Some manufacturers offer alternatives for those on a budget or with a metal allergy.

For example, one Florida-based provider of grills offers an “Alternative Gold Alloy” that resembles gold in color but is made from cheaper metals.

How often should one visit a dentist when wearing grills?

You should see your dentist at least twice a year whether you have grills or not. It’s also best to consult your dentist before investing in grills.

If you decide on permanent installments, you’ll benefit from more frequent dental appointments to ensure your teeth and gums remain healthy. 

Note that most dentists will advise against permanent grills. 

Do grills impact speech or eating habits?

Permanent and/or ill-fitting grills will likely affect how you speak and eat. Grills are usually designed to be removable so that you can maintain oral hygiene and other habits.

Summary

Dental grills are a well-known form of dental jewelry. Originating in hip-hop culture, they’ve garnered an increasingly high profile both in and out of hip-hop.

Generally made from precious metals, grills are designed to fit your teeth and be easy to remove. High-quality grills can be worn safely and shouldn’t prevent you from taking good care of your teeth.

However, there are some risks to be aware of, and existing oral health issues could make grills less safe. Talk to your dentist before committing to a grill.

Last updated on February 8, 2024
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 8, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Schwartzberg, Lauren. “The Ancient History of Grills.” Vice, 2014.
  2. Venugopal, A., and A. Marya. “Return of the ohaguro.” British Dental Journal, 2021.
  3. du Lac, J. Freedom. “Cutting-Edge Choppers Brace Yourselves: Designer ‘Grills’ Have Rappers Smiling.” The Washington Post, 2006.
  4. Iriarte Sotés, Pilar, and Beatriz Veleiro Pérez. “Gold Contact Dermatitis.” Encyclopedia of Medical Immunology, Springer, 2014.
  5. Hollowell, William H., and Noel K. Childers. “A new threat to adolescent oral health: the grill.” Pediatric Dentistry, 2007.
  6. Rangelov, Stefan, and Mariana Dimova. “Dental Grillz – Critical Analysis and Patient Opinions.” Journal of IMAB, 2022.
  7. Kaur, Harpuneet. “Tooth adornments, gems, and grills.” International Journal of Oral Health Sciences, 2022.
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