Buying jewelry, especially custom jewelry, is intimidating. Sure, we all know “you get what you pay for,” but how do you know what you’re getting? Price points can vary vendor-to-vendor and year-to-year depending on the price of gold and gems.
And purchasing a grill — or other forms of teeth jewelry — is particularly tough; some of the most high-profile iced-out mouths cost a small fortune. And if unlike Quavo, you don’t have $250,000 USD to spend, where do you begin?
“You can get something good at a lower price point, especially if you’re shopping with me,” says Helen Harris, the artist behind Helen with the Gold Teeth. “I would say if you want one, get you one, get you two, try a gap filler, try something small. Get yourself a small piece, feel it out.”
We got the low-down from Harris, jeweler Ri Serax, Pinstripe Grillz’s Don Pinstripelli and dentist-to-the-stars Dr. Apa on everything you need to know about investing in your first piece and asked them all the “stupid questions” so you don’t have to.
The Basics: Price
“If you’re walking in Fulton Mall — you know, downtown Brooklyn — or like in Jamaica Center or something, you might see a sign that says ‘we sell six pieces for like $120’ or something like that. You can’t even buy a single call tooth for me for $120,” Harris says. “My prices are really mostly based off of the price of gold and the cost for me to make these things,” she adds. “That’s what I use to sort of keep my pricing as consistent as possible.”
So how much does it cost? Well, it depends on the vendor, the quality and even the economy (more on that later). “It can range from a couple of hundred bucks for a basic gold cap and upward to 5 figures. I’ve heard of $25,000 USD quotes for an artistic grill. Quality & design don’t come cheap,” Serax says.
Harris’s estimate falls into a similar range, placing a single cap from her at around $250 USD depending on the tooth, since the top teeth are larger than the bottom teeth. “When we start getting into the stones and the diamonds, I go from commercial-grade diamonds all the way up to flawless diamonds and the commercial stones. It’s really based on per stone by caret.”
“If they want an iced-out grill, I would say, ‘Okay, let’s do what’s called a honeycomb setting.’ Honeycomb, you can’t even predict the exact number of stones it’ll be; just sort of have to estimate the number of karats and then base the pricing off of that. Precious stones, their values, their price range is huge.”
“Find some reference images of what you want so you’re happy with the result.”
The gold karat will also affect the price. Harris says she offers 14 karat up to 22 karat dental grade gold. Some jewelers also offer 10 karat, or eight or nine karat “low gold” but Harris advises against it, citing its far more sharp and rigid mouth-feel. She also warns against jewelers who quote you too-good-to-be true prices: “There are places where [you] can go and get 16 teeth for under a thousand, but it’s gonna look a mess and who knows how long it’s gonna last.”
All this to say: be candid with your jeweler about your budget from the start. Harris and Pinstripelli described experiences with clients who, as Pinstripelli puts it, “get overhyped during a conversation without being ready to afford the work.”
It’s a matter of respect for your jeweler’s time and energy. “There’s nothing wrong with someone not wanting to invest that much in a piece of jewelry,” Harris says, “but it is weird that you thought that I was available for all this discussion.”
The Basics: Process
Like pricing, the timeline for getting your grillz depends on the intricacy of the design you want. “Basic gold teeth can be turned around in a few days or a week if the design isn’t too challenging. The teeth I make are extra intricate and I add extra steps to perfect them over about two or three weeks.”
Harris also mentioned that the process to get the grill to fit correctly is another crucial but often overlooked part of the timeline. “I’ve sometimes made adjustments to people’s teeth and they still didn’t fit well. We had to remake it all together. But that’s the guarantee that you get with me: you’ll end up with something that you can wear comfortably [the way] it’s supposed to fit in your mouth, almost as though there’s nothing there,” she says.
Be candid with your jeweler about your budget from the start.
“Which is also another sort of like frustrating thing for some of my customers, right? Because they’re like, ‘Oh, well you took my mold, it’s just gonna fit. Right?’ And it’s like, no, they don’t always fit off the top for a number of reasons. But you can come in and we can do some stuff on site, but then if after that, it just still doesn’t feel quite right, we take a brand new mold, we melt that down. We start all over again.”
Next Steps: Inspiration
“Rather than just asking for fronts, find some reference images of what you want so you’re happy with the result,” Serax recommends. And the more specific you can be, the better.
“Traditionally, grillz are shaped like an encasement around the shape of your teeth, and you might not get the shape you were imagining or the ‘deep cuts’ unless you ask for it. Be as detailed as possible. When you don’t have an exact idea, mention things about you that can inspire a piece unique to your personality and daily style. Everything can lead to some creative and cool design.”
Think about grillz as you might think about getting a tattoo: research several artists and their work to find a jeweler whose practice aligns with your vision. But just as you might hear out a tattoo artist on placement, take feedback from your jeweler.
“People will have a vision in their head about what will be so cool and like what they want everyone to see them in. And sometimes I’m just like, ‘Oh no, that’s gonna look a mess,’” Harris says. She goes on to compare the experience to shopping for glasses: “They look at your face, they look at where your eyes fit, how your nose is and you can point to a pair of glasses and be like, ‘I want those’ and they’ll, be like, ‘Ew, I guess.’ You know what I mean?
Here’s another element to consider, especially if modeling your look after a celebrity’s grill: what other dental procedures might they have had? For instance, on Beyonce or Rihanna, bridges look like a delicate bar of gold topping their lower teeth — but their teeth are rail straight.
“People will have a vision in their head about what will be so cool and like what they want everyone to see them in. And sometimes I’m just like, ‘Oh no, that’s gonna look a mess.’”
Why are their teeth so perfect? We asked cosmetic dentist Dr. Apa, who’s worked on Chloë Sevigny, Vera Wang and a few Real Housewives. “Thin wafers of porcelain, known as porcelain veneers, which can correct shape, size, wear, and gaps, and you’re able to use any color. This is typically what most Hollywood celebrities get,” he says.
A set of veneers from Dr. Apa can cost upwards of $70,000 and makes a big difference when you’re talking about the fit and size of your grill.
“If someone has veneers, and they’re wearing a bridge, it’s gonna be real easy to make it look a certain way,” says Harris. “But if someone has teeth that are not as straight and they want a bridge, that’s not going to look how the ones you saw in photographs are going to look, you know what I mean? That’ll be really cumbersome. It’s not going to be elegant the way that you’re picturing it.”
In closing: find your inspiration, take it with a grain of salt and listen to your jeweler’s advice.
Next Steps: The Care and Upkeep
“There’s this interview of Blac Youngsta on a GQ thing where they have rappers go through their jewelry. They were asking him, ‘do you have any grillz?’ And he was like, ‘I don’t wear grillz. They make your breath stink.’ [I’ve heard] a few other people also say, ‘grillz make your breath stink.’ But I’m just like, I don’t know what you’re talking about because my breath doesn’t stink (laughs).”
This misconception has a lot to do with a lack of cleaning. When debris like food gets caught between the teeth and the grill, bacteria starts to collect and produces acid. This acidity can cause tooth decay, harm gums, and, yes, bad breath. So suffice it to say, cleaning is key.
In addition to brushing and flossing twice a day (as you should be doing already), sanitize your gold teeth on a regular basis. Harris gave us the two methods she likes to use for cleaning her teeth. First, to place the teeth in yellow-gold Listerine, soak overnight and brush out the inside with a clean toothbrush (not one you use to brush your real teeth with) and rinse them out. The second option is warm water and baking soda: Harris gets the water hot, cools it down, adds the baking soda and soaks for 10 minutes before rinsing and brushing.
“I want people to feel comfortable and confident coming to me regardless of the condition of their mouth.”
Dental health is something Harris discusses with her clients as well, often drawing on personal experience. “We hear about it all the time, just like doctors, medical practitioners, they’re really rough on Black folks or really negligent,” she says. “I have a tendency to stay gone from the dentist too long and when I go back, need like a complete overhaul. I’ve been trying to break myself from that cycle for the past few years.”
Harris talks through instances of clients experiencing visible pain or anxiety when their mouths are touched and finding blood on a dental impression. “I want people to feel comfortable and confident coming to me regardless of the condition of their mouth, because I feel like getting gold teeth can be part of that transformation,” she says.
“I don’t mean to be in people’s business, but I just feel like it’s the right thing to do. And then sometimes if someone’s mouth is like really, really, really rough shape, I’ll say like, ‘I don’t want to do this because you’re so scared, so see a dentist and then come back.’”
Harris also notes that grillz made from lower gold karats and baser metals can come with certain health risks. She explains that gold is a softer metal, whereas certain alloys with lower amounts of gold or no gold at all can be tough on your teeth — scratching the enamel and cutting your gums.
Pinstripelli echoes Harris’s concerns: not everything you see on the internet should really be in your mouth. “Customers often ask for colored grillz or crazy stuff they’ve seen online, unaware that it can be extremely dangerous to the gums even though a lot of companies make these types and sell them,” Pinstripelli. “I always suggest an alternative, for example, replacing a red-painted grill with rose gold. It might hinder the original visual effect, but it’s way better quality and health-wise.”
Next Steps: The Long Game
Whenever you’re talking about investing a good chunk of change, it’s important to think about how this investment fits into your life long-term: will you still like this style in six months, will you get your money’s worth out of the piece, is this something that you’re buying for five years or fifty?
“If you are already thinking about getting gold teeth, remember that it’s not just a fashion item — it’s an investment into gold and a commodity with a changing value that you now own. At any time, you can burn down your gold teeth and sell it for its value,” Serax says.
There’s no time like the present. In the U.S., there’s been an unprecedented surge in gold prices; gold has increased 26 percent in value since the beginning of the year and recently surpassed $2,000 an ounce for the first time ever. Analysts have attributed this rise to market volatility and general concerns about the instability of the American economy.
“Overall, gold has been an exceptionally well-performing investment in 2020, and some of my clients who have bought big pieces this year are extremely happy,” Serax added. “Some investors are predicting huge further growth in gold value and one hedge fund put over $400 mill into gold last week anticipating longer term growth — however you really need to research and decide for yourself as no one can predict the future.”
“[Grillz are] not just a fashion item — it’s an investment into gold and a commodity with a changing value.”
From the dental health perspective, Dr. Apa says he personally advises against long-term wear but according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there’s been no studies that definitively endorse or advise against wearing grillz long-term. The ADA does note that maintaining a high level of hygiene is paramount and that grillz made of base metals can have adverse effects.
Another thing to bear in mind: our teeth move as we age. The causes are varied (and mostly just boil down to you getting older), but the shifting often begins to set in around your 30s and 40s. Does that mean if you purchase a grill at 20, you only get 10-year’s worth of wear? Not necessarily. But if you do invest in your grillz when you’re young, invisible teeth aligners might be something to think about down the line, or as Dr. Apa points out, “A grill can actually act as a retainer, not that I am advocating wearing a grill to keep teeth from shifting.” Duly noted.
We’ll leave you with a few extra pearls (don’t get scared) of wisdom from our experts.
“‘Can I wear grillz? Is that cultural appropriation? Is that racist for me to wear them?” And for me, when people ask me that, I’m just like, you’re about to buy them from me (laughs). I think it’s fair for you to assume that I’m fine with it. I don’t know how that makes people feel, that I’m so comfortable like sharing my culture so generously with people who aren’t it. But I would like to see the stigma removed….And I think the reason is because [I’ve found] people of all backgrounds have some history with gold teeth, of all races, including white people.” — Helen Harris
“[Pre-made grillz] make me feel stressed (laughs). If you go back and watch the classic music video for ‘Grillz’ by Nelly ft. Paul Wall, I think there are a few people in the video wearing pre-made grillz. They aren’t fitting at all.” — Ri Serax
“Anything can be made out of a tooth mold, it’s all about the client. From diamonds to gems, I can craft Da Vinci’s Last Supper as a [grill].” — Don Pinstripelli