The History of Putting Grills & Diamonds on Teeth

Closeup of the mouth of a man with black facial hair and wearing removable gold grills on his teeth

Grills are removable covers, made up of silver, gold, or metals encrusted with jewels, that snap over the wearer’s teeth. Wearing gold and diamonds as dental jewelry has a centuries long history. Step back in time with us to discover the origins of mouth bling.

800 BC – 200 BC

The Etruscan civilization was a powerful and wealthy civilization of ancient Italy. Though almost no writing survives from this time period, archeologists have pieced together knowledge of this era through the excavation of graves and tombs. Rich Etruscan women wore what we would now think of as grills. Some affluent women had their front teeth removed and were fitted with a gold band appliance (much like a dental bridge) for adornment that held a decorative gold tooth, reused teeth, or replacement teeth carved out of ivory.


Hip hop and rap artists like Flava Flav of Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane popularized grills in the 1980s. Grills represented the cutting edge of hip-hop culture. Many people viewed grills as a fresh and unique form of expression, and unlike other trends from this time (like Flava Flav’s clock necklace), grills became more than mere costume jewelry in some circles.

From 2005-2012

Recently, various celebrities have garnered the media’s attention with their grills. In 2005, hip-hop artist Nelly revived the dental trend with his number one single, “Grillz”. Rapper Kanye West revealed diamond-encrusted bottom teeth while on Ellen DeGeneres’ show in 2010. To everyone’s shock, he insisted that, no, they weren’t like grills, but they replaced his bottom teeth. At the time, Entertainment Weekly called up an expert to weigh in on his claim. The short answer: yes and no; most likely, gold and diamonds didn’t actually replace his teeth, but rather his natural teeth were trimmed and used as a base to support a dental bridge. Another rapper, Lil Wayne, divulged on Jimmy Kimmel’s show that his bejeweled smile cost him over $150,000! Singer Rihanna was fitted in 2011 with removable gold grills for her “You Da One” music video. And in 2012, swimmer Ryan Lochte sported patriotic grills at the London Olympics.

A Word of Caution from Toothology Dental

All of us at Toothology Dental want you to take care when indulging in this trend. Although there have been no studies that prove grills are harmful to teeth, the American Dental Association warns that there is also nothing to suggest that they are perfectly safe either. Just as with your natural pearly whites, grills require special care. If you are considering a grill, consult with our expert team to decide if this is a safe choice for your oral health.

Even if you don’t have or want a grill, contact us to schedule an appointment for your biannual dental checkup. Your natural teeth are a fashion statement too—we can make sure your smile says what you want it to say!

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