October 9, 2023
SINGAPORE – Since Mr Fai Zainuddin started sporting tooth gems in January, he has gone about his days with a wider smile.
The operations manager, 34, said his tooth ornaments boost his confidence.
“It makes me feel good and different to wear something unique. It also goes well with my wardrobe,” he said.
More Singaporeans like Mr Fai have started to attach tiny gems – each typically no more than 3mm in size – to their teeth.
His go-to technician, Ms Renny Zuraimi, said her appointments have doubled from three to six a week since she started her business, ToothGems SG, in June 2022.
“It can peak to 10 customers a week during festive periods such as Christmas and the New Year,” added Ms Renny, who has a full-time job in the marine logistics industry.
Some request a single stud on their canine, while others prefer flashier designs consisting of multiple gems.
These gems are stuck onto the surface of the teeth with an adhesive and typically stay on for six months to a year.
The interest in tooth accessories has “increased a lot”, said tooth gem technician Vanessa Lim, who has seen about 2,000 clients to date. Tooth gems cost her clients between $75 and $400, depending on the complexity of the design.
When Ms Lim started her business, Third Eye Toothgems SG, in 2020, customer traffic was inconsistent.
A group of friends would flock to her Haji Lane tattoo parlour at once, but these visits would be followed by a lull period.
“These days, bookings are more consistent as they come from all over instead of just one social group,” said Ms Lim.
“Many Singaporeans have a lot of interest in new and special things which can help them express themselves and stand out from the crowd. There are also quite a lot of older clients – because this was very popular a long time ago.”
Teeth adornments, popularised by American hip-hop artists, engulfed popular culture in the 1990s.
But co-founder of jewellery business Chezgrillz Russell See said stores which offered such aesthetic services were few and far between in Singapore back then.
Mr See, too, receives a fair share of older customers, mainly in their 50s.
Instead of gems, however, he makes custom-made teeth grills. Based on moulds of his client’s teeth, Mr See produces grills made of sterling silver or 18-carat gold.
Grills, which he likened to orthodontic retainers, are decorative covers worn over one or more teeth.
Some clients opt for the classic two caps of silver, while others encase a whole row of teeth in gold.
The price of grills starts at $280, but an intricate design with emeralds and engravings can fetch a much heftier price tag of about $2,000.
Mr See said: “Younger customers want to get grills after seeing them in the media, while older ones say they have always wanted them for years but couldn’t find a place to make them.”
These tooth embellishments have been made popular by celebrities. Canadian singer Justin Bieber and American model Kendall Jenner have accessorised with bejewelled teeth, while fellow artists Post Malone and Jaden Smith have rocked glitzy grills in public appearances.
Tooth accessories are now making waves on local shores, but experts The Straits Times spoke to warned of the potential damage they can do.
Dr Phang Zi Ying, associate consultant at the restorative dentistry department at the National Dental Centre Singapore, said gems that are not applied properly might dislodge accidentally, putting users at risk of swallowing or inhaling them.
“(They) may pose difficulties with oral hygiene and lead to an increased risk of dental decay and gum disease,” she said. “Large or inappropriately placed dental jewellery may also lead to lip irritation or abrasion.”
Dr Pearlyn Ng, a dental surgeon at Q&M Dental Group, said there has been an increasing number of patients who inquire about such accessories and the proper aftercare routine when one has them.
But not everyone is suited for such bling. Those who suffer from gum problems or have flaying teeth should refrain from wearing them, said Dr Ng.
Ms Lim, who holds a consultation session to assess her clients’ teeth before applying the gems, said: “Tooth gems are not suitable for customers with veneers, restored teeth or teeth with thin or damaged enamel.”
Experts said tooth accessory wearers should also be aware of the type of material such accessories are made of.
Dr Matthew Sng, chief executive of Advanced Dental Group, said: “For months or years, the accessory will be in the oral environment, which is moist and sometimes acidic.”
Should the material be unsafe, it may cause leaching of chemicals from the accessory, he added.
Dr Ng said gold, platinum and titanium are safe metals for wearing, but there are cases where surgical steel and nickel have induced allergic reactions such as itching or swelling.
To protect clients, it is necessary for some regulations to be set in the industry, added Dr Ng.
As gems and grills, which are for aesthetic purposes, are not medical devices, they are not regulated by the Health Sciences Authority.
Dr Ng said: “Aesthetic technicians should be certified to inform customers of possible complications which might arise from dental jewellery so that they are not going in blindly.”
But as long as the applications are done by professionals and customers are informed, she gives the green light for those looking to spice up their smile.
“It’s possible to do such cosmetic and aesthetic works, but people need to be aware of what is in the market and how things are being done.
“Everyone has a different sense of beauty and ways of expressing themselves.”