CLEVELAND – The hip-hop culture is sinking its teeth into a new fashion trend. Individual gold-capped teeth have given way to grills and fronts — removable mouthpieces made of gold, platinum or silver and sometimes studded with jewels.
The trend has been boosted by hip-hop icons such as Nelly and rappers like Paul Wall.
After Nelly's 2005 hit "Grillz," which glorifies the trend, young people all over scrambled to wrap their chops around a shiny grill.
Jacob Owens, a 17-year-old South High School student, snagged a diamond-studded silver grill a couple of months ago for $200.
"Everybody is getting grills," Owens said while hanging out at the food court at Tower City. He chose silver to set himself apart.
Owens sheds his grill to eat and at bedtime, but wears it for hours at a time to match his earrings.
The mouthpieces are made from dental imprints and many are purchased online. But they are sold at local outlets too, like Wired Up at Tower City.
Jeremy McGrew, manager at the Wired Up kiosk, said business has been booming since the release of "Grillz."
Generally, tooth imprints are made and sent to a jeweler who fashions the fronts and returns them to the client or retailer where the items were purchased.
The flashy mouth jewelry has caught the attention and concern of the American Dental Association.
Matthew Messina, a Fairview Park dentist and ADA spokesman, said improper use and care of fronts can result in serious gum disease or cavities.
Messina has no problem with the aesthetic aspect of a grill, but he warns of problems down the road if they are not kept clean or if they are bonded to natural teeth.
Snap-on grills do not fit particularly well in and around the teeth, he said, allowing food and bacteria to get trapped underneath, which can cause cavities or other problems like gum disease or gum recession.
Other dangers include allergic reactions to cheap metals and adverse reactions to jewelry cleaners, which can burn gums, Messina said.
"The really wealthy who have them made of high-quality precious metals, you will have less allergic reaction," Messina said. "Someone going more of a cut-rate route, where they are using lesser metals, we see a lot more metal-allergic reaction to more-base metals."
Messina said some vendors may be unaware that in some states — Ohio included — taking an impression of someone's mouth is considered dentistry, which requires a license.