male patient looking at his smile with a hand mirror while sitting at the dental office

Tooth Tattoo: What's That?

Tattoos have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade across the globe. While it used to be rare to walk down the street and see someone plastered with body art, the sight has become commonplace and is now unlikely to turn heads. Some have turned to more unusual forms of marking their body, including so-called tooth tattoos. What exactly are they? Are they safe? Read below, and we’ll walk you through the answers.

How Do Tooth Tattoos Work?

Ornamental decorations on teeth were originally used for religious practices but are now increasingly becoming part of fashion, according to the Indian Journal of Dental Advancements. This practice gained popularity as mainstream fashion influencers like hip-hop artists modified their smiles with grills and gems in recent decades.

Tooth tattoos (also known as dental tattoos) refer to cosmetic markings made on your teeth but are not actual tattoos. Traditional tattoos are made by placing pigment (typically ink) under your skin to create a permanent design. As your teeth do not have skin and are protected by enamel, this method can’t be used.

So, what exactly do tooth tattoos actually refer to? While there is no exact definition for this term, it generally refers to two different practices that modify the appearance of your teeth:

  • Permanent cosmetic modification of an artificial crown before placement in your mouth.
  • Temporary stickers, designs, or jewelry fixed to your teeth.

For this reason, tooth tattooing often refers to what is more commonly called ornamental dentistry or tooth jewelry.

Did you know: The enamel protecting your teeth is the hardest material in your body and vital to your mouth’s health. This is one of many reasons it is not advisable to cosmetically modify your teeth without the help and recommendation of a licensed dental professional.

Is It Safe?

Unfortunately, this type of cosmetic modification is not recommended by any major dental organization. The research on its safety is severely lacking, meaning that it could have a high risk of adversely affecting your oral or overall health and is something you should avoid.

While tooth tattoos are seemingly more common in other areas of the world, they are rare in the United States (for a good reason!). The American Dental Association does not recommend similar modifications, like embedding gems in your teeth and other types of oral jewelry. It's your best bet to schedule an appointment with your dental professional before making any changes to your smile, cosmetic or otherwise.

As the practice is not backed by research or supported by dental professionals, you’re unlikely to find a safe way to install or maintain tooth tattoos. Additionally, it's well understood that even more common cosmetic body modifications like lip piercings can lead to significant oral problems.

It’s possible that similar long-term health risks come with tooth tattoos. Because the term refers to a range of cosmetic modifications, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what harm is associated with the practice.

Tooth tattoos and similar modifications may increase your risk of:

  • Increased plaque
  • Cavities
  • Inflammation and gum disease
  • Metal allergy
  • Damage to your enamel or gums

If you’re interested in modifying your smile, an important takeaway is that there are safe ways to accomplish this –tattoos to your teeth just aren’t one of them. Consult your dental professional for their expert advice on cosmetic changes you can make to your teeth and mouth that can improve your oral health instead of diminishing it. You’ve made a great choice to read up on tooth tattoos before making changes to your smile.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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