A History of Beautiful Black Teeth

The demand for teeth whitening procedures has been on the rise in the United States for the past few years. Pearly whites are a sign of good health, dental hygiene, and beauty. Bright teeth can give people the confidence to smile wide in public, while dark teeth can cause embarrassment by giving the impression that a person has poor hygiene.

White teeth were not always a sign of health and beauty, however. Throughout history, and even in some rural and urban areas today, various cultures have had a history of tooth blackening for cosmetic, spiritual, and practical purposes. In many of these cultures, white teeth were seen as undesirable.

Black Teeth as a Symbol of Wealth

Dental hygiene in England during the 16th and 17th centuries was not as refined as it is today. People didn’t know a lot about the importance of tooth care. In this time, the spice trade was also in full swing, bringing things like salt, cinnamon, and sugar into marketplaces to fill popular demand. Sugar was expensive, making it a luxury commodity that only the rich could afford.

With an influx of sugar and very limited dental care, the nobility’s teeth rotted much faster than the teeth of the poor. Even Queen Elizabeth herself sported a darkened smile with age, noted by foreign ambassadors. Flashing a white grin showed that you couldn’t afford to keep your shelves stocked with sweet confections. It became common practice among lower classes to darken teeth using a variety of cosmetics.

Maturity and Beauty

Tooth blackening was not unique to Elizabethan England. Until about the 18th century, Japan had a tradition of tooth lacquering known as Ohaguro, which was mainly practiced by married women, though men occasionally darkened their teeth as well. In later years, the practice became commonly associated with men of the imperial family and aristocrats. The dye used a variety of ingredients depending on the region, but most utilized a combination of iron, gallnuts, and spices to make the dye slightly more palatable. Lacquered teeth were a symbol of maturity and beauty. Showing off a mouth full of white teeth was sometimes compared to smiling with a mouth full of maggots or exposed bones.

dreamstime_xs_37491707Westerners visiting Japan were aghast at this tradition, reporting that it disfigured women and intentionally made them unattractive. Seeking to re-enter the modern world after the opening of Japan’s ports in the mid-18th century, Japanese nobility outlawed Ohaguro. The sight of the empress sporting pearly whites coaxed many women to give up the practice, and by the 1910s, Ohaguro was found only rarely in rural areas.

Vietnam also had a tradition of tooth lacquering, which can still be found in some rural urban populations where fading traditions are kept alive. Like in Japan, tooth lacquering in Vietnam was a sort of coming-of-age ritual, especially among women. In a party-like atmosphere, a young woman would have her first dye layer painted on while her family watched. Over the next three weeks, she would only be able to consume liquids through a straw as she had more layers added. By the end of the process, she would have a beautiful black smile to celebrate her coming into adulthood.

There were many recipes for the dye, some of which utilized lemon juice, copper, and iron. Tooth lacquering was so common that, just like in Japan, a white-toothed smile was a strange sight. Some even felt that it was inhuman, associating white teeth with wild animals and demons.

Keeping Your Smile Beautiful

For centuries, people have used cosmetics to keep their smiles looking beautiful, depending on what the times called for. In our culture today, white teeth are the sought-after look. With advances in dental care keeping our mouths healthy, white teeth have become a sign of health and beauty, just as blackened teeth did in past centuries.

Keeping your smile looking healthy can be a trick when so many things could darken your teeth. From coffees, wines, and teas to swimming in chlorinated pools, your smile could use a little help. Fortunately, dental cosmetics have a solution that is better for your teeth than many at-home remedies. Tooth whitening procedures are not painful, and can have you feeling confident in your smile quickly.

If you want to know more about how teeth whitening can help you reclaim your smile, please call 303-759-5652 today for an appointment with a Denver dentist at Park Meadows Dental Care.