When Bianca Garcia and Alaia Kleiner, two twenty-somethings living in Chicago, went to a friend’s birthday party a few months ago, they were greeted by a line of about 15 women clamoring for one thing: tooth gems.
“People were having, like, their entire mouth covered,” Ms. Garcia said.
Tooth gems are exactly what they sound like: tiny jewels, usually just a few millimeters in size, applied to the tooth with an adhesive. The gems are temporary — there’s no drilling involved — but permanent issues can arise if they are not installed properly.
The trend popped up in the ’90s, but it has made a comeback in recent years with a number of celebrity fans. On the model circuit, women like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber have been spotted with their teeth adorned with jewels, and they’ve become a signature look for Adwoa Aboah.
Drake joined the list of musicians to sport tooth gems after he showed off a sparkling pink diamond gem on Instagram last January. And just a month ago, Ariana Grande flashed her own pair of gems to fans on Twitter.
Ms. Garcia and Ms. Kleiner, both 23, each wanted tooth gems, but they were a bit put off by the cost of having one professionally placed. The installation can cost hundreds of dollars depending on the materials used. Instead of shelling out that kind of cash, they purchased a cheap kit online and adhered the gems themselves.
They were comfortable enough blinging out one another, but putting gems on acquaintances at the party was a different story. Their materials weren’t particularly high quality — Ms. Garcia described the stones they were using as “normal nail kit gems,” like you’d find at a beauty supply or craft store. The adhesive was also questionable.
“I honestly couldn’t even tell you what the glue was,” Ms. Garcia said. “We told our friends, ‘I mean we honestly don’t really know what we’re doing.’” No one seemed to have a problem with it.
Once her friends started posting their photos of their gems online, Ms. Garcia’s direct messages were flooded with requests. It was then that she and Ms. Kleiner started to get serious. They researched more thoroughly and visited Ms. Kleiner’s dentist to buy tools and learn about sanitary measures. Eventually, they upgraded from their starter kit gems to Swarovski crystals.
Their business grew and the two women began hosting pop-ups. They said they were approached by brands like Nike and Red Bull Music to work at sponsored events in the city. More than “100 people have been walking around Chicago with something on their tooth from us,” Ms. Kleiner said.
Still, the women continued to have doubts. “We were like, ‘Do we need a license?’” Ms. Kleiner said, noting that neither of them had a dental background. “‘For all we know, we could be doing something totally bad.’” Eventually, the concerns prompted Ms. Garcia to get out of the game.
Susie Juray, the founder of a Los Angeles-based tooth gem retailer called Tooth Kandy, has seen some mishaps from D.I.Y. attempts firsthand. She said one woman drove all the way from San Francisco begging for her help after an inexpensive procedure left the woman’s tooth severely discolored.
“Somebody used a very cheap bond — probably a bond that wasn’t even supposed to be put on the inside of a mouth — and it started to brown,” Ms. Juray said. She rushed the woman to a dentist to remove the material. “Some of it did come off. Some of it didn’t, and so there was damage to her tooth,” she said.
Ms. Garcia has also seen some dangerous applications. “I went on YouTube and I saw this 10-year-old, I’m not even kidding, put a freaking tooth gem on their tooth with Gorilla glue,” she said.
Molly Bennett, the owner of Identity Body Piercing in Chicago, said that tooth gems fall into a “gray area” between the cosmetics and tattoo-and-piercing industries. Many people consider their installation to be a cosmetic procedure because it doesn’t involve drilling holes into the tooth. (According to a spokesperson, the American Dental Association doesn’t currently have a policy on tooth gems or jewelry.) Regardless, Ms. Bennett, who said her client Rolodex includes Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves and Noah Cyrus, doesn’t believe that’s excuse for skimping on training and safety.
Ms. Bennett’s father is a dentist and made sure she had plenty of practice before she began offering the service in her shop. She goes through additional measures to protect herself and her clients, building in an age requirement (18 and up) and only using nontoxic gems and dental-grade materials from a medical supplier. Her customers are also required to sign separate insurance and release forms, which include a monthlong guarantee for any incidentals.
Services from the Beverly Hills-based dentist Dr. Anjali Rajpal (nickname: the “Diamond Dentist”) come at a higher price, but her clients are willing to pay a premium for peace of mind. Dr. Rajpal’s services range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per tooth, depending on the type and number of jewels.
Dr. Rajpal says that she wasn’t trained to apply tooth gems in dental school, “but because it’s on teeth, I feel like it’s much better handled by someone like me that knows what they’re doing.”
Ms. Juray of Tooth Kandy hopes some regulations will be set to help clean up the industry. Until then, she offers a certification process for potential employees, also known as “tooth fairies.” For $3,500, they get a one-on-one training session that includes company guidelines, safety protocol, marketing tips and a complete tooth gem starter kit. So far, Ms. Juray said, more than 150 tooth fairies have received the company’s certification.
She urges tooth gem seekers to do their research. “These are your teeth that we’re going to be working on,” Ms. Juray said, noting that clients get what they pay for. “There’s Gucci clients, and there’s Walmart clients. It is what it is. We’re the Gucci at this point.”
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