Grillz Explode in Popularity, Cause Tooth Decay

Is All that Glitters Really Gold?

Bling, ice, platinum and clout. Not for your neck, but for your mouth. It seems as though everyone from fourth graders to 50-year-old farmers in Idaho is now aware of the hip hop phenomenon of accessorizing teeth with “grillz” or “fronts.”   The fad began with constant, pervasive images of popular rappers such as Nelly, Paul Wall and Lil’ Jon wearing platinum and diamond-laced retainers in music videos, live performances and photos.  Plastered all over television and in mainstream publications, “fronts” went from hip hop exclusivity to kiosks at the local mall. But, as the saying goes, “all that glitters ain’t gold.”  And this hip hop trend is no exception.  Many people are walking around blissfully unaware that their “fronts” are taking a toll on their other fronts, their faces — or, more specifically, their mouths. 

Individuals are damaging their teeth by wearing these metal retainers.  The metal used for grillz- be it gold, silver or platinum- wears away at tooth enamel and increases the risk of developing serious oral health problems.  These include severe gingivitis, gum disease, periodontal disease, tooth decay and complete tooth loss.

Teeth have five surfaces that must all be cleaned in order to keep bacteria at bay.  Grillz, be they permanent or removable, make it harder to maintain a sufficient level of oral hygiene. Permanent retainers prevent brushing and flossing completely.  This leads to a build-up of bacteria and acids around the gum line, which, in turn, causes plaque. The same effect can result from using removable retainers if individuals neglect to brush and floss after eating and before replacing the grillz in their mouths.

“I can’t justify wearing them,” said a sighing Dr. Bridgette Rhodes, a doctor of dental surgery in Washington, D.C.  “From a professional standpoint, they should never be worn.”

Rhodes warns that the problems with grillz go beyond cavities, bad breath and gum disease.  Her main concern is that these metal retainers shift tooth alignment.

“Teeth move constantly,” she emphasizes.  “The grill is going to move teeth; that is a fact.  Teeth are going to be pushed into the position of the grill.”

The metal in grillz is very rigid.  When pressed over teeth, ill-fitted retainers can cause sore spots on the gum.  If not given the chance to heal properly, these sores can develop into cancerous lesions.  For adolescents who do not have all their adult teeth, wearing fronts for hours a day leaves no room for new teeth to grow.  Fronts can also lead to an open bite, which will cause problems in the jaw joint.

“I never thought about any of this,” said Annapolis, Md. resident John Chambers, 22. “But it all makes sense when you think about it.  But I don’t think anyone thinks about the risks. It’s all about looking cool.”

Chambers once owned fronts, but stopped wearing them once the novelty wore off and the responsibility of keeping them up set in.

“It was too much of a hassle having to take them out every time I ate or drank something.  It’s kind of hard to look cool at the club if you got to take your fronts out every time you wanna have a drink.”

Rolland Williams, 22, also of Annapolis, has been wearing his grillz faithfully for almost two years and even showcases them on his personal myspace.com page.

“To me, a grill is just part of an image,” the aspiring rapper explained.  “It’s a part of rap music now.  Knowing the risks isn’t going to stop me from wearing them.  Personally, I don’t think it’s that serious, because it’s not like I’m gonna wear them forever.  I’m young, and it’s just a form of expression.”

Rhodes disagreed. “This is a mess,” she said.  “I don’t see the statement behind them.  I just don’t understand it.”  Anyone considering purchasing grillz should beware of online do-it-yourself kits and one-size-fits-all deals.  Local jewelers do not have the authority to take molds for retainers.  Taking an impression of teeth is considered dentistry and requires a license. Additionally, jewelry cleaner should never be used to polish metal retainers.  Chemicals in jewelry cleaner are toxic and should never come into contact with the mouth.