The History of Grills

You may be surprised to find out that grills (sometimes spelled grillz) have been around for a lot longer than you might think. In modern knowledge, most people know of the resurgence of grills or teeth decoration from rap culture during the 1980s. What you might not know is that its roots can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Mayan culture.

Jeweled teeth

Source: National Geographic

A grill is a metallic covering worn over the teeth that fits similarly to a mouth guard and can be made to fit universally or be custom to a single person. Most grills are made out of silver, gold or platinum and can be inlaid with diamonds or other gems.

In recent years, grills are common in pop culture and have been worn by celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Beyoncé. Before grills became popular in the United States and way before one graced the mouth of Madonna, they were worn by ancient Mayans and other historic cultures. Here’s a little history.


800 to 200 BC: The Etruscans, a society that lived in ancient Italy, is believed to have covered their teeth in gold wire. Much of the Etruscan culture was destroyed by war and little record survives of their customs, but from their bones and graves, scientists have noticed females with teeth linked together with thin, gold wire. Researchers believe that the gold wire was for cosmetic purposes and the teeth were not functional. The wire may have been used to replace teeth that had naturally fallen out or for beauty after teeth were purposefully removed. The teeth were wired together and then placed back in the mouth. This was a symbol of status because the women could afford gold and could afford to have a soft meal prepared for them as the removed teeth hindered their ability to eat. This tradition fell out of style when the Romans overtook the Etruscans.

300 to 900 AD: Mayans used to cut tiny holes into their teeth and fill them with precious stones, most often jade. The jade stones were symbolic of status and were most often worn by royals. In Mayan culture, jade was symbolic of plant growth and prosperity. By wearing jade, the royalty were showing their subjects that they promised to take care of them and their land. This tradition stopped after the Spanish conquest in 1500 AD.

1300 AD: Filipino’s believed that their deity, the creator of the world, had solid gold teeth. They began to follow suit, filing down their teeth, decorating them and sometimes staining them black. They also wore gold bands which covered the entire front row of teeth. These bands were passed down for generations and were worn for rituals into the 20th century.

1483: Dentist Giovanni d’Arcoli made the first prototype of gold teeth. Teeth were cleaned of decay and then covered with gold leaf. This procedure was only for the wealthy because the gold leaf was so expensive.


1855: Robert Arthur improved on the design by using the less expensive gold foil to cover teeth. This made the procedure available to a wider range of people. Gold teeth became a status symbol in certain places in the world such as former Soviet countries and Eastern Europe. Sometimes even healthy teeth were replaced with gold.


1900s: Descendents of the Mayans who now live in southeastern Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala still wear tooth ornamentation. A 2012 article said that 65 percent of Guatemalans wear some sort of gold tooth ornamentation today. They prefer gold teeth to other fillings and consider them to be a symbol of wealth and status. Once they move north, they often want to replace their gold teeth for white or “American crowns.”

1977: The Spy Who Loved Me, a film from the James Bond series, featured a villain named Jaws who wore large, silver teeth.

Source: 1977 spy who loved me

1980s: By the mid-1980s, grills were often seen in rap and hip hop videos. You can see Slick Rick wearing grills in his video La Di Da Di and also in the videos of Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap.


1990s: Grills increased in popularity moving from the underground culture of southern rap to pop culture when worn by artists such as Flavor Flav.


2000s: Grills hit mainstream pop culture and are seen on the teeth of many celebrities including Madonna, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, Kylie Jenner and Lady Gaga. Grills are often worn even on the red carpet.

Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Beyonce Vevo; Madonna/Instagram;

2012: Ryan Lochte wore his American flag grill on the medal stand after winning Olympic gold. CR Fashion Book featured a model wearing grills.




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