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Gold teeth are a form of dental prosthesis. They are sometimes used for cosmetic purposes.
Dentists have used gold for filling cavities (before mercury amalgam became available), for crowns, and for other purposes since ancient times. Gold is malleable, nearly immune to corrosion, and hard enough to form a biting surface that can be used for years. Gold was used before silver became available and has continued to be used for specialized purposes. Dental restorations are often made from a combination of precious metals. After 1980, gold inlays and gold foil work became rare in the United States.
Gold teeth were first present in America during the Jim Crow era. Originally it had become a tradition in Louisiana and around the Mississippi Delta after the slave trade. During Jim Crow it was believed[by whom?] that many African Americans who were former slaves began getting the gold caps to replace their rotting teeth. It later became a symbol of wealth and freedom for the slaves that once worked on the plantations fields in south Louisiana. African Americans who had money would get gold caps as flaunted by Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. Bootleggers and pimps sported gold teeth during that time as well. In the late 1980s they were popularized in New York by Brooklyn native Mike Tyson, who got gold caps in mimicking his idol Jack Johnson. Rappers such as Rakim and Slick Rick began to sport gold grills instead of permanent gold teeth. This trend lasted in New York for ten years.
Grills, false tooth covers made of metal, have become a popular hip hop fashion in the United States since the 1980s. While some rap musicians have had their gold teeth permanently attached to existing teeth, most people who purchase them for aesthetic purposes opt for removable gold teeth caps.
In 2005, Nelly released the rap single "Grillz" which promotes the dental apparatus.Grills were also popularized in hip hop videos in the early 2000s by Three 6 Mafia, lil Wayne, Ludacris, Paul Wall, and other rappers from the south. As of today the gold grills are still being sported by rappers in various colors. Grills have also been worn by Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, and Madonna.
In certain regions of the world, especially in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet countries, Central Asia, and the Caucasus regions, gold teeth are worn as a status symbol, a symbol of wealth, installed in the place of healthy teeth or as crowns over filed-down healthy teeth.
In World War II
In Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account, concentration camp survivor Dr. Miklós Nyiszli (who served on Dr. Josef Mengele's medical kommando) describes the "tooth-pulling kommando". These teams of eight, all "fine stomatologists and dental surgeons" equipped "in one hand with a lever, and in the other a pair of pliers for extracting teeth", worked in the crematoria. Stationed in front of the ovens, their job was to pry open the mouths of prisoners who had been gassed and extract, or break off, "all gold teeth, as well as any gold bridgework and fillings". The teeth were collected and stored at the camp before being sent on to the Reichsbank to be melted down and converted into gold bullion, which could then be sold on with no trace of its origin.
Gold teeth have appeared in characters conveyed through many different forms of entertainment media.
- Schepp, David (August 3, 2001). "Gold teeth are a gold mine". BBC News. Retrieved January 16, 2006.
- Nyiszli, Miklós (2011). "Chapter III". Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. Trans. by Richard Seaver. New York: Arcade Publishing. pp. 53–55. ISBN 9781611450118. OCLC 761307497.
- "Gold Tooth". TV Tropes.
- May, Meredith (May 1, 2005). "The gold standard of style: No longer just for tough guys, glittering grills go mainstream". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
- Media related to Gold dental crowns at Wikimedia Commons