Is This Still Hip?
Teeth blackening was once the most common form of body modification in the areas where it was practiced – Micronesia, Melanesia, in Southeast Asia from Sumatra to Timor, and from Malaysia to China and northwest India as well as Japan and Taiwan. The practice began in prehistoric times (sometimes deliberately blackened teeth on skeletons are uncovered during archeological digs) but generally started to die out when each area encountered the Western white teeth ideal. It didn’t help that teeth blackening was often a part of religious rituals that Western colonizers or missionaries attempted to stamp out – in some areas, teeth blackening was even outlawed. As a result of cultural and religious pressure, teeth blacking is now rarely practiced. You can still see black teeth sported by some older Vietnamese countrywomen, but they say that their teeth aren’t as black as they should be, since the dye, usually applied for annual touch-ups, is no longer available. That really bums me out. Call to action for Brooklyn organic DIY homesteader intellectuals – produce a microfinanced teeth-blackening collective, please!
It Doesn’t Matter if You’re Black or White…
“Our hostess, small, fat, good-natured, and polite, showing black-lacquered teeth between rosy lips, like ripe seeds in a watermelon, bustled about….” As you can see from this 1890 letter from an American artist living in Japan published in the Century magazine, Americans have long made fun of teeth blackening and similar cultural traditions that go against our ideal of a toothy white smile.
Today, men and women in America are going through some strange and painful procedures to lighten and brighten their teeth. Getting caps or veneers requires filing down the teeth, then adhering a new shiny white surface to the remaining tooth nubbin. You can opt to just whiten your actual teeth with a variety of strips, pastes, and potions – but isn’t voluntarily putting all sorts of chemicals in your mouth kind of strange? Especially since my dentist (who is the greatest dentist ever, and does things like pull out gruesome before and after shots of patients if you do something like say “so, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen someone do to their teeth?” (Answer, FYI, is using Super Glue to repair cracks in an effort to avoid dentistry visits (PS: this doesn’t work))) recently told me that most people pick a shade of white for their new teeth that is brighter than anything seen in nature. His clients don’t listen when he tries to steer them towards more subdued, natural veneers. This may be due to the fact that when they turn on their TVs, they see a whole lot of this:
A long and painful process to make your teeth a non-natural color? Looks like we have more in common with tooth blackeners than we thought.