Boston residents can now get a new accessory to add to their spring wardrobes: tooth gems. While the sparkling smile enhancers dulled in popularity post-Y2K, this refreshed trend — a professionally placed adornment on the tooth’s enamel — has returned by way of celebrity clientele and nostalgia, offering a non-permanent option for self-expression rather than a tattoo or piercing.
Gia Benitez owns Gemmed by Gia, which opened in Brighton in October 2022, providing tooth gem services and custom grills. Benitez uses Swarovski crystals and solid gold gems, in shapes like butterflies and hearts, to bond to clients’ teeth using dental composite and resin. Services start at $70 for a single gem and go up in price depending on the intricacy of the design.
“I really do love what I do. It’s exciting to be able to watch people’s reaction to a new look, and to boost their confidence,” said Benitez. “This [industry] isn’t super mainstream so it’s really cool to step into the space. … It’s almost like having canvases in your mouth.”
Benitez became a certified tooth gem technician in 2020 and originally started out of her mother’s basement before obtaining her studio space along the Green Line.
Dental jewelry is an adornment that sits at the front of a tooth, and is visible upon smiling; typically, gems are placed at the center of the tooth. Tooth gems last between three to six months, depending on the eating and drinking habits of the wearer, and can only be applied to tooth enamel (not veneers or dentures) using a dental composite.
“It’s part of the outfit, like an aesthetic,” said Angel Gonzalez, a recent client at Gemmed by Gia. “For tooth gems, it’s like grills, but without the permanence of it. I’ve seen it in other cities but not here, so it’s exciting and an eye-opening thing. It makes me happy [that] there’s new things happening in the city.”
The 23-year-old Boston native said he found the studio through word of mouth. Gonzalez received a blue Swarovski crystal tooth gem, on his canine, during his January appointment and said he planned to get more as he grows his personal style.
Benitez’s business joins a growing number of tooth gem services and studios in New England, including Stoughton’s the Smile Lounge and Gemmed Smiles in Allston. Gemmed Smiles owner Taylor Silva opened her studio in May 2021, offering her clients Swarovski crystals and 18-karat yellow or white gold gem options.
“Right now, a lot of people, specifically in Black and Brown communities, are looking for a way to express their art,” she explained. Silva agreed that tooth gems provide an outlet for self-expression that sometimes fashion cannot.
Before the application, Silva said she provides a consultation process that includes looking over the client’s overall mouth shape and bite. She explained the consultation allows the technician to look at the anatomy of the mouth and plays a part in the gems’ longevity, as some designs may be incompatible depending on where certain teeth fall.
Dr. Tien Jiang, an instructor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology who specializes in dental education in prosthodontics, advised tooth gem clients to also seek consultation with their dentist before going through with an application.
“You want to make sure, if you are receiving this service, you’re getting regular dental visits, and don’t have gum disease or cavities, because it could potentially mask those diseases,” Jiang said.
She also noted tooth gems might impact the color of teeth with wear. Adding, “Your teeth are naturally porous; if you drink a lot of coffee or wine, they can start to change color a bit. It’s the same thing with these composites or resins used [in tooth gem applications], even if it’s just a tiny bit, it may create a difference on what’s on your tooth or potentially create different shades on your tooth once the gems fall off,” she explained.
When applying a tooth gem, technicians prepare the tooth by etching; a phosphoric acid opens up the small pores in the outer surface of the enamel. Etching cleans the first layer of the tooth before a bond is used to attach the embellishments.
Tooth gems can be removed at any time through a dental practitioner, or fall off naturally as time goes on. Tooth gem technicians advise wearers to avoid eating anything hard, sticky, or chewy after the service.
While tooth gem studios in Boston are relatively new, self-expression through tooth decoration has existed for centuries. Tooth embellishments date back to the Mayan Empire; researchers have speculated teeth were drilled and decorated with jade, gold, and turquoise as a rite of passage and a potential solution to tooth decay. In more recent decades, tooth jewelry — ranging from grills to gems — has been a long-celebrated form of self-expression within Black and Brown communities, resurfacing today with the support of TikTok and celebrity fans, like FKA Twigs, Rosalía, and Drake. The hashtag #toothgems had 265.9 million views on TikTok at the time of reporting.
“It’s definitely artistic,” said Silva, who sometimes changes her own gem design every other month. “If you get bored you can change it out depending on your mood — as long as you’re not damaging your tooth enamel.”
Chloe Shaar is a freelance fashion and environmental sustainability journalist and Emerson graduate based in New York and Boston. Follow her on Instagram @chloeshaar.