Traditional modifications are still practiced by many cultures around the world, but since the 19th century there have been many advances in technology, medicine, and dentistry, leading up to the 1970s popularity surge in aesthetic or cosmetic dentistry. During this time period and continuing through to the present day, a number of dental modifications have been modernized, establishing new cultural trends and providing a less painful experience for the patient. This is partially accomplished through the use of sedatives, anatomical precision, and a wide array of instruments.

In the Western world, a fixation with the “Hollywood” and “Selfie” smiles have created a new market in the field of dental modifications, catering to the desire to present a bright white, uniform smile. Dental ornamentation and teeth filing have also been integrated into Western trends through the introduction of DIY jewelry, grillz, and other elective procedures and dental appliances used to mimic creatures and characters from pop culture.

Hollywood Smile

Western civilization’s desire to emulate celebrities and other idols is nowhere more obvious than the dental modification known as “the Hollywood smile.” The importance of teeth in the social and work realm is nothing new, but with new trends in cosmetic dentistry, anyone can sport a pristine smile, and “the Hollywood smile” in particular has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years.

In order to achieve this effect of shiny, perfectly aligned, gap-free teeth, professionals employ a few different types of dental veneers. While the application process, price, and durability of these methods vary, all aim to achieve the eradication of aesthetic “imperfections,” such as staining, misalignment, and chipping. In many cases, however, it is necessary to remove or damage parts of the teeth’s protective enamel to carry out the process.

For those wanting a DIY approach to simply brighten their teeth, a number of abrasives are available on the market today, but many of these can be damaging to the tooth’s protective enamel.

Whether it be to show off your charisma in day-to-day life, display your superb health status (whether true or not), or make a dazzling impact on the red carpet, “the Hollywood smile” is often undertaken by those who want to replicate a “natural smile,” which also dazzles.

Grills/z & Fronts

Grills, also known as grillz or fronts, find their roots in practices first recorded in the Etruscan and Maya populations, but have assimilated comfortably to American society today, particularly amongst celebrities and within Hood Culture. The device itself comes in many forms, but is most commonly a removable decorative cover of gold, silver, or jewels (real or fake).

Gold teeth had been out of fashion for a while in America, but in the 1970s, a countertrend began to emerge in African-American and West Indian communities in New York City. And so “fronts,” as they were then known, were born, beginning as a less costly way to remedy missing or damaged teeth, but finding a home in the mouths of everyone from teens to adults.

The phenomenon then began its journey as a status symbol and is today touted by celebrities ranging from Kanye West to Katy Perry, and even featured in fashion shows and magazines such as Vogue. Although Kanye West is one of the few grills-wearers to opt for a permanent device, one of the perks of a removable device is the flexibility it allows its user to change appearances depending on the context they find themselves in.

In 2005, singer and rapper Nelly released a song called “Grillz,” and while the song and its artist may no longer be mainstream, its prophetic nature is undeniable. The music video featured 70 close-ups of the dental device and could be considered its big debut in pop culture. Today, the craze for grills is insatiable.

Dental Jewlery

In a similar vein to grills, dental jewelry also finds its roots in Mayan culture. In contrast from its predecessors, however, dental jewels are non-invasive, painless, and removable. The jewels themselves can be designed in gold, silver, and various crystals, as well as formed into various shapes. Today brand-name companies like Swarovski sell the accessories and celebrities like Kesha and Hailey Bieber wear them, marking them with a certain air of subtle pop culture prestige.

Dental Appliances

From dentures to braces and retainers, all kinds of new dental modifications have arrived on the market to appease Western culture’s fixation with straight and intact pearly-whites. At the same time, new progresses in dental technology, including tools and molding methods, have led to more accurate fits and more customized treatments for the individual patient.


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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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