Tiny tooth jewelry replacing grills as hot mouthwear trend

Mouth grills are so last year. The newest (and some say safer) way to display dental bling: tooth jewelry.

Unlike grills - mouthpieces that blanket the teeth like gaudily bejeweled braces - tooth jewelry is seen as a less ostentatious, less expensive and less intrusive way to sparkle when you smile. Monika Linau, owner of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based DecoDent, sells a range of tooth crystals and jewelry that includes crosses, aliens, Nike-swoosh look-alikes, and gems in heart and star shapes.

The jewels are meant to be attached by dentists with a composite substance. "It's basically the same process as a colored tooth filling," said Linau, who was a dental hygienist in Germany before settling in Santa Barbara in 1999. "Every dentist can do it within five to 10 minutes."

It isn't a new concept: Ancient Mayans once used more invasive techniques, drilling into teeth to insert gems. More recently, tooth jewels have become popular in Europe, Japan and Brazil, Linau said. They're just starting to catch on in the U.S., Linau said, but tooth jewels still lack the street status of grills, which got their cachet from the rap and hip-hop community, and a hit song that sang their praises.

Many dentists aren't thrilled by grills, and not all of them are ready to bite at tooth jewelry, either. "I don't think I would get involved in that sort of thing," said Colorado Springs dentist Debbie Roubal. "It doesn't sound like the safest thing to do." Roubal, who hasn't worked with teeth jewelry, said problems can arise with tooth decorations, including enamel wear and fractures.

The American Dental Association doesn't mention tooth jewelry on its Web site, although it warns people who wear grills to practice good oral hygiene, limit wear and brush regularly. Dr. Matthew Messina, an American Dental Association consumer adviser who has a private practice in Cleveland, said there are worries associated with tooth jewelry - especially for people who install their own.

Dejon Stewart, a 17-yearold student at Sierra High School, said he's seen girls at his high school glue what appear to be fake diamonds from nail sets onto their teeth. Messina blanches at the thought. "There's a difference between (putting) something in your mouth and on your skin," Messina said. "A lot of the adhesives that are used are relatively toxic." Messina said it's not about the ADA or dentists not liking the style. A badly installed tooth jewel could result in serious problems. "You're just creating a situation where all kinds of bacteria and plaque will stick to it and irritate the gums around it," he said.

The dentist-installed products may be safer, he said, and Linau insists her products aren't harmful. Deco-Dent typically sells the jewels directly to dentists through its Web site, www.decodent.us, and sends an instruction page to them for proper attachment.

A jewel will remain on the tooth from eight months to two years or more, or until the wearer goes back to the dentist to have it removed, Linau said. "The only downside is that you can't just take off the jewel," she said, because the jewels must also be professionally removed. She, too, encourages wearers to practice good oral hygiene. "That's why it's important a dentist does it," she said.

The DecoDent site also sells self-install kits, which Linau calls a "diluted version" of what the dentists install. Prices range from $25 for a temporary self-install kit to $35 for one dentist-installed jewel to $255 for a set of 14 dentist-installed gems. Dentists' charges to install the jewels will vary, Linau said. Even if tooth jewels prove safe, there's no guarantee they'll catch on. "I've seen some diamonds on teeth," Stewart said recently during a trip to The Citadel mall. "It doesn't look right."

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DecoDent, 517 W.Quinto St.#B, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Tel. (805) 637-8158, Fax (805) 685-4743