Grill (jewelry)

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Paul Wall wearing his trademark grills. Some of Wall's grills cost nearly $30,000.[1]

In pop 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 but can also be permanent. They were popularized 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. Since then, grills have reached the mainstream; a "hard flex of both style and wealth, grillz have always been a symbol of power and social status – right from its origins that can be traced back to over 4,000 years ago."[2] Etruscan females are said to have worn grills to show their status up until 100 AD, as well as the Mayans and also other cultures. The practice of using gold and/or precious stones on teeth has waxed and waned over human history. Although grills have been around for over 4,000 years, the rise and fall of their popularity at different times in different countries is a reflection of fashion trends.[3][4]

A gold crown

Grills can imitate and are not mutually exclusive with gold teeth, a form of permanent dental prosthesis in which the visible part of a tooth is replaced or capped with gold.


According to National Geographic, immigrants from the Caribbean had gold dental work due to its then low-cost and it was commonly seen in the neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Native New Yorkers began to see it as a fashion statement especially with the rise of hiphop in the 1980s. Grills went mainstream in the 1990's with Vietnamese immigrant Johnny Dang creating "blinged out versions." [5]


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.[6] Gold grills can be made from 10-karat, up to 24-karat gold. The gold can be tinted yellow, white and rose color.[7]

Grills can cost anywhere from one hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the materials used and the number of teeth covered.[6][8]

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.[9]


Dental grills inlaid with stones

The insertion of gems into teeth predates hip hop culture.[10] Hip hop artists such as Raheem the Dream and Kilo Ali began wearing grills in the early 1980s;[8]

New Yorker Eddie Plein, owner of Famous Eddie's Gold Teeth, and Johnny Dang and Paul Wall are often credited with kickstarting and expanding the trend.[8][11] 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 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 grills popularity rising, Plein made gold caps for Flavor Flav, Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap.[8][11] He later moved to Atlanta, where he designed ever-more-elaborate grills for rappers like OutKast, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, and Lil Jon.[8][11]

According to Forbes, "Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Cardi B," "are all loyal clients of Vietnamese immigrant Johnny Dang. Some fans have even tattooed illustrations of Dang on their body. But Dang wasn't always known as the king of bling, with his golden palace of fine jewelry."[12]

Grills remained popular in the Southern U.S., especially in Houston or Memphis, even as they rose and fell from popularity elsewhere,[13] and the rise of Dirty South rappers in the 2000s spurred a nationwide grill trend.[8] 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.[1] Wall is known for his grill business as well as his rapping; his clients include Kanye West and Cam'ron.[1]

Grills maintained their popularity into the 2010s, with French grillmaker Dolly Cohen creating custom oral jewelry for Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, and Rita Ora.[14]

Custom grills maintained its popularity in the music industry, not just men but women, as well. Beyonce, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga are notable among female popstar celebrities to have sported grills.[15]


More expensive grills are shaped to fit custom dental molds like this one.

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.[8] For more expensive grills, a dentist takes a mold of the wearer's front teeth with a quick set alginate.[16] A tooth mold is obtained by filling the alginate negative[17] with buff stone, then the buff stone is used to fit the grill to the unique set of teeth.[16] 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.[18][19] Such grills may be less comfortable or dependable than grills that are professionally fitted,[20] and in several instances jewelers manufacturing grills in this manner have been charged with practicing dentistry without a license.[21][22]

Criticism and health hazards[edit]

According to the American Dental Association (ADA) in June 2006, no studies have shown whether the long-term wearing of grills is safe.[23] If the grills fit properly and are worn only intermittently, wearers are at a low risk for dental problems, according to the ADA.[13][11] 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.[11][23] School districts in Alabama,[8] Georgia,[8] and Texas[24] have banned grills for reasons both disciplinary and health-related.

Just as other hip hop fashions have been criticized, grills have been denounced by some commentators as expensive, ostentatious, and superficial displays that strain the finances of poor youth.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Heldman, Breanne L. "More Bite for the Buck." Archived 2007-10-22 at the Wayback Machine New York Daily News (October 6, 2005).
  2. ^ "ustin Bieber, Pharrell Williams, Madonna: 17 celebs putting their money where their mouth is with glitzy grillz". July 7, 2021. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  3. ^ "Grillz: The History Behind Those Expensive Smiles". August 15, 2017. Retrieved August 20, 2022.
  4. ^ "A Brief History Of Grillz: 4500 Years Of Style". August 28, 2015. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
  5. ^ "The Secret History of Grillz | Explorer". National Geographic. March 5, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Schepp, David. "Gold Teeth Are a Gold Mine." BBC News (August 3, 2001). Accessed September 14, 2007.
  7. ^ "Facts about gold teeth" Krunk Grillz. Accessed January 1, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sims, Brian. "History of the Grill." Archived 2007-05-09 at the Wayback Machine Hip Hop DX (July 17, 2006). Accessed September 14, 2007.
  9. ^ Auerbach, Nichole (July 28, 2012). "Ryan Lochte's post-race grill shines with stars and stripes". USA Today. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b c d e Du Lac, J. Freedom. "Brace Yourselves: Designer 'Grills' Have Rappers Smiling." Washington Post (January 17, 2006).
  12. ^ "How Vietnamese Immigrant Johnny Dang Became Rap's Favorite Jeweler| Explorer". Forbes. September 17, 2019. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  13. ^ a b c Steven, Curtis. "Rap Sinks Teeth into Grills." Tampa Tribune (February 2, 2006).
  14. ^ Ellenberg, Celia (March 6, 2014). "Introducing Dolly Cohen: The French Jewelry Designer Behind Cara Delevingne, Rihanna, and A$AP Rocky's Custom Grillz". Vogue. Archived from the original on October 25, 2016. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  15. ^ "Pop Star Ladies Wearing Grills: Madonna, Miley, Beyonce & More Show Off Golden Chops| Explorer". Forbes. February 25, 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  16. ^ a b Phillips, Bianca. "Rappers May Lose Reason To Smile." Memphis Flyer (February 7, 2007).
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ Bauer, Andrea. "What Are You Wearing?" Archived 2007-09-17 at the Wayback Machine Chicago Reader (September 8, 2006).
  19. ^ Hill, Ian. "Grills Gone Wild." Archived 2017-08-27 at the Wayback Machine The Record (Stockton) (December 19, 2005).
  20. ^ "Various grill types and styles" (November 10, 2016)
  21. ^ Laue, Christine. "Grins with Grills." Omaha World-Herald (February 7, 2006).
  22. ^ Rosenbaum, S.I. "Jeweler's Gold Grill Business to Lose Its Luster." St. Petersburg Times (December 17, 2005).
  23. ^ a b American Dental Association. "Dentists Say Dental Grills (Grillz) Might Bring Glitz, But Could Tarnish Smile." (June 28, 2006). Accessed September 14, 2007. Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Texas School District Bans Grills." Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine Spin (July 13, 2006).