I am of West Indian descent and grew up seeing friends and family members with gold teeth and caps. Over time I've developed an appreciation for oral jewelry. I began photographically documenting grillz at hip-hop festivals and in my community.
While speaking with those I was photographing, I started to learn the differences in oral jewelry practices among regions. For example, in New Orleans, most people remove their teeth and install permanent gold or diamond teeth in their place (see bottom picture). In New York, many people wear gold caps; this comes from West Indian and Central American culture (see first photo). In Texas, most people get two-toned grillz (gold and silver, or gold and platinum). While in Atlanta, most people get a full mouth of 22 karat gold grillz (see second photo).
I took my photo documentation a step further by dissecting the correlation between the wearing of grillz, gold caps and tooth replacements to the ratio of dental insurance coverage and hygiene in the Black community. Most Black people do not have dental insurance and when dental hygiene is not properly maintained, teeth rot rapidly, which then has immense effects on overall health. Many people wear oral jewelry as a means of protecting damaged,unhealthy, or lost teeth.
The “Art of Grillz“ was my master thesis for Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, is installed in Columbia University’s medical library, and is a traveling exhibit.