Story by Asia Lanzi

Tooth gems are the latest trend that has taken the beauty world by storm, and it’s no wonder why. This semi-permanent accessory offers a painless and unique way to decorate your teeth, almost like a glamorous manicure for your mouth. Music artists such as Rosalia, FKA Twigs and Lil Nas X have flaunted their diamante-encrusted dental decorations on the red carpet and their latest album covers. The accessory’s popularity and affordable price point (not everyone has a spare million) have transcended its appeal beyond Gen Z to people of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds.

Martina: “What attracted me the most to tooth gems is their sparkle. I love everything that glitters. My personal style could be described as elegant and cool, with a mix of Latin elements like big golden hoops, chola-inspired tooth gems, and anything bling. Growing up in Argentina, I was always fascinated by beautiful women with sparkling smiles, bedazzled teeth, and glowing rings who welcomed me with open arms.”
Alice:”After discovering a shop in London that made amazing grills, I became a bit obsessed with tooth jewelry. I like how it’s a bit adjacent to my otherwise traditionally feminine style of dressing.”

For a bit of context, tooth gems have a rich history dating back to 800 BC when the Mayans drilled different gemstones into their teeth, which was initially believed to be for spiritual reasons. As the predecessor to the current-day dental bling, grills, are an embodiment of a subcultural aesthetic that became popular among black hip-hop artists in the 90s and filtered into the mainstream by the mid-2000s.

Today, tooth gems are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the revival of 2000s fashion trends like thin eyebrows and low-rise jeans. And Amsterdam has emerged as a thriving hub for tooth gem businesses, with entrepreneurs offering their services at pop-up shops, events, and home studios throughout the city. With a wide range of options, from delicate silver gems to multi-colored rhinestones crafted in hearts, butterflies, and designer logos, these dazzling accents are sure to make a bold statement on our smiles. Whether you’re an early adopter or just getting into it, there’s a shared sense of unity in self-expression and exploration of personal style.

In this photo essay, photographer Bas Van Est captures the essence of tooth gems and the adaptability of Gen Z to integrate them into their personal style. Intrigued by the subcultural status of tooth gems, he decided to capture their growing popularity among today’s youth culture through this portrait series. The message conveyed is simple – embrace your boldness, add a touch of glamour to your smile and let that little sparkle shine!

“One of the highlights of shooting this series was that it required the sitters to smile or raise their lips in a slightly silly manner in order to show off their tooth gems”, as Bas explains. And so the images exude a carefree, flowing, and lighthearted vibe, inviting viewers to celebrate their individuality and have fun expressing themselves.

photography BAS VAN EST @basvanest
producer DENISE BAKKER @CakePhoto
photography assistant TIMO STEENVOORDEN