Gold teeth are fortunately out of style; they have been for decades now. And between offshoots, such as hip hop grills and colourized brace brackets, the act of dental self-expression and ornamentation is now decidedly a lost art.
To be fair, however, gold became the material of choice for crowns — not just the royal kind — for reasons beyond vanity. Technicians from castle-ceramics.com note how the precious metal held up in both form and function and smiling with a golden glimmer was actually a practical, acceptable decision.
The Shining Fallacy
‘The only acceptable evidence is that revealed in the skulls themselves’, writes Dr F. Filce Leek in his 1967 study The Practice of Dentistry in Ancient Egypt. This statement holds true for all of the archaeology, in fact, and the current body of evidence points to an intermittent presence of gold teeth across history.
In the case of ancient Egypt, excavations have revealed no instances of accessorised teeth, not in pharaohs or their slaves. Dr Leek and his colleagues noted an overwhelming rate of tooth disease-related deaths, though.
Beauty is Pain
‘People like to think Egypt started everything’, says Jean MacIntosh Turfa, co-author of The Golden Smile: The Etruscans and the History of Dentistry. In the book, Turfa and Marshall Joseph Becker set out to prove that gold teeth were originally an Etruscan phenomenon. They noted how certain women from the ancient Italian civilisation would deliberately have their front teeth removed, only to replace them with gold appliances.
Turfa and Becker note, however, that the Etruscans were unable to take full advantage of gold’s exceptional properties as a dental material, even when (or perhaps because) it was the local goldsmith, not the dentist, who applied the new gleaming choppers. ‘It was done for adornment’, Turfa reasons. ‘You couldn’t bite an apple with these, but it looked pretty good’, Becker adds.
The desire to improve one’s appearance, while a highly subjective affair, is consistent across humanity regardless of time and place. Gold teeth have gone in and out of society’s favour throughout history, and it is very likely that the latter just happens to currently be the case.