The dental aesthetic of symmetrical white teeth is a modern European standard, but for many people the dental ideal involves carved, stained and/or bejeweled teeth. This is because artificially modified front teeth can communicate cultural affiliation, determine physical attractiveness, and indicate status.
These extreme forms of body modification have been practiced by cultures around the world for thousands of years using chisels, machetes, leaves, soot, and drills. But thanks to modern advancements in dentistry, people in the Western world can make similar dental statements without the pain or long-term commitment using temporary porcelain caps.
Dental Etching and Filing
For thousands of years, indigenous populations all over the world have etched patterns, like cross-hatch and parallel lines, into the enamel of their teeth. Archaeologists have found evidence of intentional dental carvings in graves found in North America, Mesoamerica, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The Vikings lived in Scandinavia from AD 750-1100 and were just as famous for their advances in maritime navigation as their raids on villages and monasteries. They also had a reputation for being filthy and unrefined, but Vikings actually spent a lot of time on their appearance. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that Vikings groomed their beards and used hot rocks to iron their clothes.
There is also evidence that they etched striations into their teeth then painted the striations with red resin and charcoal as a way to intimidate their enemies. Archaeologists have found skulls with horizontal lines engraved in the front teeth in Sweden, Denmark, and England.
In 2005 Caroline Arcini published her research on Viking dental filing in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Arcini looked at the skulls of 24 men from the Viking Age (ca. 800-1050 AD) found in Sweden and Denmark that had 2 or more horizontally, parallel lines in the teeth.
In 2009 archaeologists discovered a mass grave in Dorset, England with 51 beheaded skulls and 54 dismembered bodies. The bones in the grave dated to between 970 and 1025 AD, a time when the Vikings were raiding the Anglo Saxons in the UK. One of the skulls in this mass grave had lines carved in the front teeth. Isotope analysis on the teeth revealed that this person was from a Nordic country.
Another form of dental modification is the filing of teeth into different shapes, which has been practiced by people inMesoamerica, Asia, and Africa for thousands of years. In 2006 archaeologists working in the Malian Sahara found the earliest evidence of artificial dental modification in West Africa with teeth that dated to about 3000 BC and had been chiseled into sharp points. Archaeologists have also found teeth from the Mayan culture that were carved into ornate shapes.
Today, this type of tooth modification is practiced Indonesia. The Mentawai people are an indigenous group in the coastal and rainforest environments of the West Sumatra province of Indonesia. The Mentawai believe women with sharpened teeth are more attractive and the practice establishes a balance between body and soul. Below is a National Geographic video of Mantawai woman who undergoes a painful tooth sharpening ceremony.
Today in the extreme body modification culture, people sharpen their teeth to emulate animals.Eric Sprague, known as the Lizardman, is a freak show performer who sharpened his teeth into fangs, had his tongue split in two, and underwent 700 hours of tattooing to look like a lizard.Dennis Avner, known as Stalking Cat, tattooed his face; had whiskers implanted; had his ears, lips, and nose surgically altered; and had is teeth filed and capped to look like a cat.
Because dental filing can weaken teeth, many people choose to sharpen them with porcelain caps. Recently, in Japan a trend called yaeba, or “double tooth,” became popular. Yaeba is a dental procedure where the upper canines are capped with sharpened points to achieve a snaggletooth smile, because it is considered an attractive, youthful trait.
Read about dental staining, filing, carving, and inlays at Strange Remains
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