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Research 05/021
The Far-Reaching Cultural Impact of “Grillz”

When thinking about grills, probably the first thing that comes to mind is Hip-Hop, so, it would seem that grills originated recently, after the birth of Hip-Hop, but there is nothing more wrong.

It's still discussed if the first grills were made by the Egyptians or the Etruscans, the fact is that is quite difficult to determine which population started first this trend, Egyptians were the first that really went deep into dentistry, their diet was full of sweets, so it was a regular problem for them, but, even if it would be plausible that Egyptians created the first grills in history, new discoveries in the area of Rome indicates that Etruscans adopted a sort of grills, teeth woven with gold wires, around 800 BC.

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Credits: Eddie Plein

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This Etruscans tradition vanished after the Roman took over Italy, the only other places where a similar technique was present for the next centuries was South America, where the Mayans used to drill small holes in their teeth and fill them with round pieces of jade, but, as for the Etruscans, this tradition quickly fell off after the Spanish Conquest of the 1500s.

This demonstrates that humans have things in common, one of these is wanting to change their appearance, and teeth are no different than hair or clothes, as, examples of grills have been found in small quantities in various other cultures.

Mouth ornamentations in gold were still popular in many countries at the start of the 20th century, from Mexico to East Europe, in many cases, gold was the cheapest option to fill cavities, and many when moving to the US or the richest parts of Europe decided to change them in what they called "American Crows" or white teeth.

Something changed in the '70s in New York, immigrants from the West Indies and Vietnam were wearing gold teeth, or as they called it in New York at the time "gold fronts" and many kids started born in the US started wearing them, not for dental reasons, but to show their wealth and success, the same way the Mayans and Etruscans did, and, with the explosion of Hip-Hop, thanks to acts who used to always wear grills such as Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane, grills suddenly popped up everywhere, especially in the Houston scene.

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After Nelly's hit "Grillz", featuring Paul Wall, and with Johnny Dang in the video, the two Godfathers of grills in the South of the US, grills became mainstream, a new coveted jewelry piece that everyone wanted an everyone was wearing, from Gucci Mane to Lil Wayne.

In more recent years grills transformed, for something only for rappers, hustlers of drug dealers they became a new way of showing wealth for a much wider public and jewelers discovered new ways of working on this "new" type of jewelry, playing with colors, new shapes and other materials, not just gold and diamonds, to create never-seen-before effects.

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