The History Of Bejewelled Dental Prostheses - Antique Curiosities

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Welcome once again to another instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'!

I went on a lovely little buying trip this week and found some rather fascinating little pieces, which, all bar one, have been sold to 'Source Social' members before even hitting our website! Unbelievable! The one piece that is yet to sell, however, is the piece that I have decided to dedicate this week's blog post to.

I do love a curio, always have done, always will do, and this piece is up there as one of my strangest purchases.  The long and the short of it is, I saw a set of silver teeth sparkly in a cabinet at an antiques shop and they came home with me!  Even the sales assistants looked at me like I was odd! 

So, as always, get that kettle on, take a seat in the waiting room and let's examine my silver find and have a look at the history of bejewelled dental prostheses...

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

I should probably begin by telling you more about my find.  Examining this set, they certainly look to have some age, so I'm estimating them to be from the early 20th century.  Made from silver, they'd have slipped over the top of the front four teeth and are probably more commonly known now as grills.  A status symbol for someone who perhaps wasn't wealthy enough to have afforded gold ones, but was of some standing to have been able to afford a silver set.

The silver set I found are currently available to buy here

 

Image:  L0058137 – Example of Etruscan teeth - Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images

 

However, it all really started with rich Etruscan women, who were the first group of people to wear what we would now call grills.  The Etruscans lived in Italy from around 800 BC to 200 BC.  Some of the Etruscan women deliberately had front teeth removed and fitted a gold band appliance to hold a replacement tooth.  Interestingly, it was never a dentist, but a goldsmith who carried out these works.

Etruscan women would go to public banquets with their husbands and their gold teeth would display their wealth, status and a relative equality.

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

Then there were the ancient Mayans.  For them, jade was the go to material, carving it into a type of grill.  Maya kings and queens would drill holes into their upper teeth and fill them with round pieces of jade, to enhance their physical attractiveness and to highlight their social status.

Mayans also saw green as a symbol for plant growth and agriculture, and Maya royalty saw it as their responsibility to bring the rains, mature crops and  to ultimately, feed the people.  So, I guess, these grills could be interpreted as a promise that everyone would be taken care of.

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

In 900 AD, there is evidence that the Vikings filled their teeth in order to demonstrate group identity.  Instead of elegantly decorating their teeth, the Vikings filed ridges into them.  They filed a flat area on the tooth and then made ridges starting from the top of the tooth. They might have also coloured the ridges with some sort of charcoal mix to create white teeth with dark black lines.

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

In Southeast Asia, they believed gold linked them to cosmological forces.  The earliest evidence available shows they started to decorate their teeth with the metal around 1300 AD, and also filed and even deliberately blackened their teeth.  

While further north in the Philippines, people wore fitted gold bands, which covered an entire front row of teeth.  These are the closest-looking to today's grills.  The leading women would place a plate of gold over their teeth and remove it to eat.  They were passed down as family heirlooms and survived all the way into the mid 20th century.

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

Before the late 19th-century, false teeth were expensive for all but the wealthy. Dentists struggled to produce functioning replacements, resulting in the manufacture of dentures which were made of of anything from wood or porcelain, animal bone or ivory, to hardened rubber and even gold or silver.  Real human teeth were also used in the making of dentures. These teeth were commonly sourced from corpses on the battlefield, stolen from graves, or extracted from the poor who raised desperately needed funds.

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

In the 1970's, parts of the West Indies, and Jamaica in particular, went through a slow economic period, and there wasn't much money for dental care, so gold teeth it was.  In the late 70s and the 80s, people from the West Indies started moving to New York, bringing along their gold teeth and sending money back home for proper dental care.

 

Image:  My early 20th century silver false teeth find 

 

Today, bejewelled dental prostheses is still used and continues to be a sign of wealth and status, particularly with celebrities.  While the wealthy can afford to invest and hide their money away to protect it, they also feel the need to carry their money on their teeth to remind themselves and everyone else just how successful they are.

 

Image:  Jaws from the James Bond movies with his infamous metal gnashers

 

So, there you have it, a brief history of bejewelled dental prostheses.  I hope you've enjoyed it.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Remember, if you enjoy my posts, please show your support by subscribing to my 'Source Social' membership, which you can do via the 'Home' page.  It's free and gives you a weekly blog post and a fortnightly YouTube video delivered directly to your inbox, as well as exclusive discounts and first dibs on new items before they are added to our website.

And, speaking of my YouTube channel, if you're into antiques and haven't seen any of my videos yet, you can find them HERE.  Head on over and subscribe to that too for your dose of finds, fairs, stories and reviews.

So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!

Cheerio!

 

Stephen

Owner Source Vintage

Shop from Source Vintage here


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