Gold grills, or “grillz,” as they are widely referred to today, did not even have a letter “z” as part of their identity when they were originally invented.
In fact, they weren’t called gold grills at all centuries ago.
Originally, a gold grill was identified as simply another form of jewelry. The first gold grill was discovered in the 1920’s by a group of archaeologists in Giza. They found a man who was later to be found to have two gold teeth.
The women of the Etruscan civilization, a region that is known today as Tuscany and formed around 800 BC, were women of wealth and power. They wore their gold teeth as a symbol of their status up until approximately 100 AD. These grills are studied today by anthropologists as an artifact of the time.
There are at least 20 examples of these from this civilization in various museums in and around Italy as well as Greece. Instead of the grills being used as an added aesthetic feature, the actual teeth of the women were extracted, and the gold grills acted as a prosthetic, if you will, in place of the real teeth as a permanent display of status.
People of the Mayan civilization were accustomed to grills for teeth as well. This civilization of people resided in the area Meso-America, which is now called Southern Mexico, Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The Mayans though did not use gold or diamonds as grills. Their preference was for jade. They would place the stones into their teeth. This was done through at least 1500 AD.
There are also some references to gold teeth toward the end of the 18th century; specifically by the German archeologist Karl Bottinger around 1797 in his findings of the people in and around Saxony of which we now know of as France and the United Kingdom.
Gold Grills: 90's and Beyond
In the 1990s, gold teeth and grills became an extremely popular trend in Tajikistan in what is now Russia. Then, the price of gold rose less than ten years later and gold teeth lost their popularity in that region. Although, they still seem to be very popular in what is now Uzbekistan in the same area.
So, grills, no matter how they were identified, have at least a 4,500-year-old history. Also, historically, gold grills have always symbolized status that comes with power and substantial wealth.
Grills were first seen in the United States in the Jim Crow era. Many slaves who bought their freedom, especially around the Mississippi Delta region, began getting gold caps as a symbol of their freedom, which in that time and political strife was symbolic for blacks of freedom as being a status symbol as opposed to wealth or power.
To them, it was symbolic of their personal empowerment over slavery. Grills or individual gold teeth became a tradition that became very specifically done by the blacks in southern Louisiana.
As time passed, the symbolic nature of gold teeth changed with the times. Many blacks who were pimps or bootleggers were known to get a grill along with several individual top gold teeth as a symbol of their wealth and power. In the early 1900s, the first heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, had several gold teeth.
Gold Grills and Hip-Hop
In the 1980s, grills made their debut among hip-hop performers. Most back then were non-permanent gold teeth covers that were made of metal. These could be uncomfortable and non-hygienic to wear, so some rap musicians would remove their natural teeth and have grills put in place of them.
Others would not remove their natural teeth but instead permanently attach a bottom grill or top grill to their teeth like a cap. In 2005, grills were becoming popular in the hip-hop community, so, Nelly released a rap single, “Grillz” which gave tribute to grills.
Many well-known hip-hop artists of the era made cameo appearances in the video to the Nelly single including Chief Keep and Grill Master Johnny Dang who is considered the godfather of grills. The video at first shows archaeologists discovering a grill in what looks like the Mayan ruins and runs through the history of what grills had become up until that time. The video then ends with a public service announcement touting the benefits of proper oral hygiene.
Rappers began to not only sport a full grill, but they would put in complete grills on the top and insert diamonds and other precious stones to add to the “bling.” Grills waffled in popularity through the mid-2000s, with many rappers displaying customized top as well as gold bottom grill accouterments costing in the thousands of dollars.
Lil Wayne, for example, boasted during an interview that he had paid over $200,000 for his. Some rappers did not go as far and would display non-permanent gold grills inlaid with diamonds, or a removable gold bottom grill of platinum or rose gold.
Grills have now become part of the history of our American culture. World-renowned National Geographic even produced an educational documentary on the history of grills. Because of the level of societal acceptance of gold teeth and grills, they are not seen as simply a part of the hip-hop culture. All types of people from differing ethnicities and walks of life now embrace grills as fashionable aesthetic-wear.
Beginning in the 1990s, some rap musicians used the gold grill trend to show their alliance with specific rap labels or rap groups—East or West Coast. They would have the names embossed into a grill that stood for a certain group or label as well as sporting individual teeth with emblems.
A pioneer in grills is Eddie Plein. He owns and operates an establishment called Eddie’s Gold Teeth in Atlanta, Georgia. His first famous customer was Flavor Flav of the hip-hop group Public Enemy. From there, word spread and he started to fit grills for many of the New York City rap artists like Big Daddy Kane and Kool G., Ludacris, and Lil Jon.
Grills are usually made of a combination of several types of metal: silver, gold, and sometimes platinum. They usually can be removed by just attaching them to permanent teeth, though some are made to be permanent by having teeth altered with gold crowns or to permanently resemble a grill.
Gold Grills: Metals, Karats and More
They metal can between 10-24 karat gold. The alloy of the karats varies: 10 karats are roughly 40% alloy. The most typical karat is 16 with an alloy of roughly 67%. If the top and gold bottom grill is removable, then they have to be cleaned with some kind of non-abrasive cleanser. You can also let it sit in hydrogen peroxide for no longer than 30 minutes. They are then rinsed in warm water and dried with a cotton cloth.
It is recommended that grills be polished with a soft cloth like a gold or diamond buffing rag you can get at any jewelry store. You could also take just a capful of jewelry cleaner and add it to several cups of warm water and dip a soft cloth in it and rub it on the grills to buff them. Just make sure to rinse them well before you put them back in your mouth.
This will help restore the grills to a natural shine. If the top and gold bottom grill is permanent, they can be cleaned like natural teeth.
They can also have precious stones of almost any kind added to them. Although the preference is usually for diamonds, that can be more expensive than the cubic zirconia variety which is cheaper and gives nearly the same aesthetic quality as a real diamond.
Some grills are made for single teeth and used as a cap or put in permanently either by removing the single tooth or capping over it.
Gold is easier to work with and considered of higher quality than silver since it is more malleable, but it is hard enough to create a surface that can be used for the purpose of insertion over a long period of years. It also is almost impossible to corrode.
Since gold inlays and any type of gold for the mouth became virtually non-existent by the 1980s, most dentists do not work with gold or silver as a rule. Specialty shops, like Eddie Plein’s, are where most people need to go to get a top or gold bottom grill made and sometimes fitted and inserted.
Anything that would need to be done in terms of extracting natural teeth before a grill is used would have to be done by a professional dentist first.
Specialty shops, as well as some dentists, can offer a person many different designs that are far more advanced than not only 4,500 years ago but even since the early 2000s.
Because grills are mostly worn for status reasons, they can vary in price depending mostly upon what is added to them. A modest grill consisting of six teeth in the front might cost between $240-$500 without many additional accouterments, like precious stones. More elaborate versions and wearing both a top and a gold bottom grill with at least eight teeth each could end up costing upwards of $25,000 or more.
This is a modest style that is a gold bottom grill. It is not too flashy but will be noticed when someone approaches you without being too conspicuous. It covers most of the bottom teeth and can be removed.
Numbers and Letters
Numbers are usually chosen as grills because the number itself has some significance to the person wearing it. It can be worn as a top grill or bottom gold grill on individual teeth or across a row of teeth depending on how many numbers are represented.
This style of grill can be worn on the top teeth, and it resembles the thick rope on the deck of a ship. It has open “windows” in each space of the rope so that a person’s natural teeth can still be displayed. It is considered a unique style and very distinct. This style is very difficult to add precious stones too, but it is easily removed or kept on as a permanent part of the mouth.
This style is worn as a top or gold bottom grill, or both. The design is achieved through hand engraving lines across the gold teeth and then cross-hatching the engraving to resemble the surface of a pineapple. This style is very easy for adding any type of precious stones into the center engraving of each “pineapple”. It gives a tremendous aesthetic “bling” quality and can be added to very easily. It has a unique feature in that if enough precious stones are added to it, any type of light will reflect off the stones and create a very flashy presence.
This style of grill is probably the most abstract-looking. It may appear subtle at first because of its simplistic design, but once it is inserted, the abstract quality of it makes it stand out among some other types of gold grills. It works only as a gold grill for the top teeth or else it loses the “drip effect” of the design. This is not a style you will want to consider if you are looking for major bling in your gold grill selection since they can’t really be added to this design.
This style is another rope-like design, and it riffs off of some of the original rope necklace designs of the early hip-hop era. It looks like twisted wire for the gold bottom grill version for six teeth, but the canine teeth design is more flat chain pattern.
This can be worn on both the top as well as the bottom.
Some famous stars who wear customized grills either on a permanent basis or as a fashion statement with a particular outfit are Hulk Hogan, with a platinum, diamond encrusted grill, Rhianna, who has a drip design with a customized revolver molded into the design itself, Madonna who wears removable grills that are saturated with diamonds on every tooth on the top grill and bottom,and Ryan Lochte who wore the pineapple design in platinum when he took his picture with one of his gold medal at the Olympics.
Grills can also be created from scratch to your specifications. For example, specialty shops will create grills for special occasions like vampire fang gold grills for Halloween. You can also choose the metal and precious stones in advance to make sure you know the exact materials that are being used to create our gold grill.
Gold grills of any kind, if the design permits can be bought in sets. They can be purchased online and then customized by a specialty shop or a dentist who specializes in this area. Keep in mind that many dentists do not work with gold grills for just aesthetic wear. There are dentists that specialize in this area.
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