NEW YORK — – Need a dentist for those crowns? You could probably find a decent smile surgeon by just asking around the office.
But what if those crowns were made of 18-karat white gold and studded with diamonds that spell out your initials?
That's where Ronald Cunning, the Rapper Dentist, comes in.
"The Doc says flossin's really good/Tell all the boyz down in the hood!" Cunning's Web site, www.rapperdentist.com, suggests.
Below that advice, a graffiti-style illustration shows a blond white man wearing a lab coat and a gold medallion surrounded by a coterie of rappers. The man, the site informs visitors, is the "Rapper Dentist Daddy," the "Hip Hop Dentist."
The site also includes photos of Cunning being towered over by C-Murder and head shots of rap artists Master P, Mia X and Silkk the Shocker.
"He's just become all our dentist," said Barbara Pescosolido, vice president of No Limit Records, Master P's company, and head of public relations for Dogg House Records, Snoop Dogg's label.
But anyone going to Cunning's Montclair, Calif., practice expecting a white version of Heavy D will be disappointed. Cunning is a mild-mannered, bespectacled 66-year-old grandfather.
"I probably wouldn't have crossed paths with Snoop Dogg or Master P or C-Murder if I hadn't started doing this," Cunning said in a telephone interview.
"And you know what? They're very nice fellows...I've met some interesting and colorful characters."
The Making of the Rapper Dentist
Before he installed diamonds in the mouths of some of the most popular rap artists, Cunning was known as one of the first dentists in Southern California to offer sedation.
The practice, which opened in 1969, attracted actors, models and singers, and Cunning found himself catering to Hollywood types.
About four years ago, a movie house sent Master P, whose real name is Percy Miller, to see Cunning. Master P was starring in the movie Takedown and had had a noticeable set of gold crowns, which were out of place in the film. Cunning made removable tooth-colored veneers to cover them up. Master P liked the job so much that he began referring Cunning to his fellow rap-artist friends.
"Next thing we knew they were here asking for gold crowns with diamonds, initials in diamonds, symbols like the Mercedes-Benz logo, a champagne glass, a heart," he said.
After some deliberation, Cunning decided to fulfill those requests, and became the Rapper Dentist.
"They came in with these terrible shell crowns, like a little tin can, not even real gold," Cunning said, recalling some of his earlier patients. "It was absolutely the most horrific thing I've ever seen...I just came to the conclusion that if this is the kind of dentistry they want to have done, I can do it and I'll know it's going to be done right."
With a specialized on-site laboratory, dental technicians who double as jewelers and a friend who gets him a deal on diamonds, Cunning began working on rappers, mostly artists from Master P's label.
"Master P just liked their work, so after he got his golds and diamond redone, so did Silkk and Mia and the others," Pescosolido said. "They treat us really well and he's just got a really tight operation."
Cunning's worked on rap superstars, made a $30,000 set of removable diamond-encrusted gold teeth and even risked his life at the height of the East Coast-West Coast war that took the lives of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.
"A celebrity was scheduled for an appointment after hours. When he arrived, several people were sitting in a car in the parking lot," Cunning said. "My patient was worried and didn’t want to get out of the car, so eventually I went over and asked if I could help them. It turns out they were a couple of fans who wanted to get a CD signed. But it was a scary thing that happened."
Still, while Cunning bills himself as the Rapper Dentist, most of his practice is regular adult dental work.
The Decorative Dilemma
Liza Montoya, fashion editor for hip-hop magazine The Source, said decorative dental work has been variously in and out of favor in rap circles for over 20 years.
"It got really big in the mid- and late- 80s," she said. "Even Madonna had one gold tooth, it got that mainstream."
It also depends on what region you're in, she said. Right now, "flossing" — or showing off — your toothy treasures is big among Southern artists, while it's passé in the Northeast and has never been popular in the West.
If there's anything different about this go-round, Montoya said, it's that dental wear seems to be entering its rococo phase.
"I think at this point, it's all the bells and whistles," she said. "Once I saw fronts (removable tooth covers) made like a jaguar jumping across the six front teeth. That, to me, was amazing, the whole animal in diamonds and rubies, and its eye was an emerald."
But even after years of such fancy doings, Ronald Cunning hasn't changed the fundamentals of dentistry.
"I've begun to enjoy rap because some of our regular customers will give me their CDs and tapes," he said. "But in the waiting room we play elevator music — Muzak."