In hip hop culture, a grill (most commonly referred to as grills or grillz), also known as fronts or golds, is a type of dental jewelry worn over the teeth. Grills are made of metal and are generally removable. They began to be worn by hip-hop artists in New York City in the early 1980s, and upgraded during the 1990s in Oakland. They became even more widely popular during the mid-2000s due to the rise of Southern hip hop rap and the more mainstream pop culture status hip hop attained.
Characteristics and wearer demographics
Grills are made of several types of metal (often silver, gold or platinum) that are sometimes inlaid with precious stones; they are generally removable, though some may be permanently attached to the teeth. Gold grills can be made from 10-karat, up to 24-karat gold. The gold can be tinted yellow, white and rose color.
As of 2006, grills were most often worn by 18- to 35-year-old African-American male hip-hop listeners. Grills received mainstream attention, including on network television, when, during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte posed with a grill that sported stones in the design of a U.S. flag; he had previously worn diamond grills after earlier competitions.
New Yorker Eddie Plein, owner of Famous Eddie's Gold Teeth, is often credited with kickstarting the trend in New York during the mid 1980's. Plein began adapting dental crowns from single teeth into multiple caps thus creating the first grills originally known as fronts or caps. His first notable celebrity customer was gangster rapper Just Ice who would popularise gold fronts by donning his custom teeth on the cover of his 1987 album Kool and Deadly photographed by Janette Beckman. The teeth would appear on both the front and back covers of the artwork.
With his popularity rising, Plein made gold caps for Flavor Flav, and then outfitted New York rappers including Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap. He later moved to Atlanta, where he designed ever-more-elaborate grills for rappers like OutKast, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, and Lil Jon. Other writers have cited Slick Rick and Afrika Bambaataa as an important early contributor to the popularity of grills.
Grills remained popular in the Southern U.S., especially in Houston or Memphis, even as they rose and fell from popularity elsewhere, and the rise of Dirty South rappers in the 2000s spurred a nationwide grill trend. During this time, grills frequently appeared in hip hop music, most notably in the 2005 number one single "Grillz," by Nelly, Paul Wall, Big Gipp, and Ali, and in other Paul Wall songs. Wall is known for his grill business as well as his rapping; his clients include Kanye West and Cam'ron.
Grills maintained their popularity into the 2010s, with French grillmaker Dolly Cohen creating custom oral jewelry for Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, and Rita Ora. In 2015, DJ Khaled created a song based around grills, "Gold Slugs" (feat. Chris Brown, August Alsina & Fetty Wap). Gold Slugs also is used as a term similar to grills with the same meaning.
The 2021 book MOUTH FULL OF GOLDS documents the definitive origin story of grills as told through the life of creator Eddie Plein and written by Lyle Lindgren.
While early grills could not be removed easily and involved reshaping the tooth itself to fit the grill, grills are today made from custom dental molds. For more expensive grills, a dentist takes a mold of the wearer's front teeth with a quick set alginate. A tooth mold is obtained by filling the alginate negative with buff stone, then the buff stone is used to fit the grill to the unique set of teeth. However, for inexpensive novelty grills, a jeweler may make an impression by having the wearer bite into dental putty or wax softened in water, or the wearer may do this themselves. Such grills may be less comfortable or dependable than grills that are professionally fitted, and in several instances jewelers manufacturing grills in this manner have been charged with practicing dentistry without a license.
Criticism and health hazards
According to the American Dental Association (ADA) in June 2006, no studies have shown whether the long-term wearing of grills is safe. If the grills fit properly and are worn only intermittently, wearers are at a low risk for dental problems, according to the ADA. The ADA has warned, however, that grills made from base metals could cause irritation or allergic reactions, and that bacteria trapped under a grill worn on a long-term basis could result in gum disease, cavities, or even bone loss. School districts in Alabama, Georgia, and Texas have banned grills for reasons both disciplinary and health-related.
- Heldman, Breanne L. "More Bite for the Buck." Archived 2007-10-22 at the Wayback Machine New York Daily News (October 6, 2005).
- Schepp, David. "Gold Teeth Are a Gold Mine." BBC News (August 3, 2001). Accessed September 14, 2007.
- "Facts about gold teeth" Krunk Grillz. Accessed January 1, 2014.
- Sims, Brian. "History of the Grill." Archived 2007-05-09 at the Wayback Machine Hip Hop DX (July 17, 2006). Accessed September 14, 2007.
- Laue, Christine. "Grins with Grills." Omaha World-Herald (February 7, 2006).
- Auerbach, Nichole (July 28, 2012). "Ryan Lochte's post-race grill shines with stars and stripes". USA Today. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
- Stewart, T. D. (March 1941). "New examples of tooth mutilation from Middle America". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 28 (1): 117–124. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330280107.
- Du Lac, J. Freedom. "Brace Yourselves: Designer 'Grills' Have Rappers Smiling." Washington Post (January 17, 2006).
- Steven, Curtis. "Rap Sinks Teeth into Grills." Tampa Tribune (February 2, 2006).
- Jones, Vanessa E. "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is." Boston Globe (January 31, 2006).
- Ellenberg, Celia (March 6, 2014). "Introducing Dolly Cohen: The French Jewelry Designer Behind Cara Delevingne, Rihanna, and A$AP Rocky's Custom Grillz". Vogue.
- Phillips, Bianca. "Rappers May Lose Reason To Smile." Memphis Flyer (February 7, 2007).
- "We put a smile to your face — This is how it all works". Ju-Ma. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved December 27, 2008.
- Bauer, Andrea. "What Are You Wearing?" Archived 2007-09-17 at the Wayback Machine Chicago Reader (September 8, 2006).
- Hill, Ian. "Grills Gone Wild." The Record (Stockton) (December 19, 2005).
- "Various grill types and styles" Deezgrillz.com (November 10, 2016)
- Rosenbaum, S.I. "Jeweler's Gold Grill Business to Lose Its Luster." St. Petersburg Times (December 17, 2005).
- American Dental Association. "Dentists Say Dental Grills (Grillz) Might Bring Glitz, But Could Tarnish Smile." ADA.org (June 28, 2006). Accessed September 14, 2007. Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- "Texas School District Bans Grills." Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine Spin (July 13, 2006).