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From some of the biggest hip-hop artists to teens out on prom night, flashy dental adornments — popularly known as grillz — have become an increasing common sight since their introduction into popular culture in the early 1980s.

Back then, grillz were worn primarily by a select group of hip-hop artists seeking to separate themselves from the crowd. Now, grillz can be seen as a representation of street culture virtually everywhere, from the inner city to the suburbs.

The popularity of grillz among those seeking the most extravagant means of expressing themselves skyrocketed in the early 2000s as an ever increasing number of rappers used them to signify their wealth and success.

Grillz have become particularly prominent among rappers hailing from the South, as well as their fans. The style was even memorialized in song by rap artist Nelly. In his appropriately titled song, “Grillz,” Nelly raps, “If I could call it a drink, call it a smile on da rocks.” Fair enough. With his success, he can afford to adorn his grillz with rocks (a.k.a. diamonds). After all, the song reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100, a weekly list of the best selling U.S. singles.

Grillz are made in a dizzying variety of colors, styles, and shapes — and can sell for an even more dizzying variety of prices: from $50 versions available at the mall to specially designed pieces that go for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The customized versions are considered the real deal, however, and are less prone to cause tooth decay and other forms of damage. These grillz are specially made, often of silver, gold, or platinum. Some grill aficionados go as far as to incorporate such precious stones as inlaid rubies, pavé diamonds, or emeralds.

Adding to the popularity of grillz is the fact that they can be removed as needed. Old-style grillz required the permanent reshaping of teeth. A specially designed crown was then fitted over the tooth, the look and style of which were, of course, customized. However, the permanence and inflexibility of this method were daunting to all but the most die-hard hip-hop fanatics.

Currently, there are still some hip-hop artists who have elaborate, diamond-studded grillz permanently affixed to their teeth. For those who are put off by the commitment of perma-grillz, however, custom-fitted, removable pieces are the most realistic and comfortable option. Made from an original plaster cast, these grillz can be customized to fit entire rows of teeth, or just a few selected teeth. A small but growing number of dentists are providing this service to their patients.

Grillz are not likely to gain acceptance in mainstream society anytime soon, which seems to suit most grill-wearers just fine. After all, whether you are a world-renowned hip-hop artist or a suburban teen getting ready for the prom, a little rebellion can go a long way.

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