Gold, Gems, & Glory

Developed by Guest Curator, Celita Summa


Sharpened teeth on men – Bopoto, Northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston, G.C.M.G. found in Die Sitten der Volker, 1912.

Dental modification is a form of body modification like tattoos and piercings, which focuses on physical and aesthetic alterations performed primarily on the teeth. This type of body modification consists of the alteration of, partial or complete removal of, or additions tacked on to the naturally occurring teeth, conducted for aesthetic purposes or cultural significance, rather than for health or practical reasons. Modifications of these practices have been performed in recorded history since Etruscan times and are older than the formal practice of dentistry itself.

Throughout history, different forms of dental modifications have been practiced for a wide variety of reasons but have always helped establish individuals’ identity and perceived place in their culture. The precise origin of most dental modifications is unknown, and is not specific to any geographic region, as similar traditions have been practiced around the world both simultaneously and not. 

As cultural attitudes and medicine developed, so too did dental modifications. However, it is important to note that each new trend does not mean the eradication of previous trends, but rather the stigmatization and decrease in practice of previously common modifications. As a result, today, dental modifications, which come in many different shapes and sizes, continue to be an important aspect of many cultural identities. Such practices range from traditional implementations like teeth sharpening to more modern and less permanent interpretations like wearing removable grillz.


Tuesday - Friday: 10am to 4pm


31 S. Greene St. Baltimore, MD 21201



The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry is an auxiliary enterprise of the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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