What's that on Hailey Bieber's teeth? Examining the viral tooth gem trend

Celebrities like Hailey Bieber have jumped on board the trend.
PHOTO: Instagram/Hailey Bieber

While many beauty trends come and go and are never seen again, some make a comeback when you least expect – see the ’60s micro mini skirt at the end of 2021.

More recently, this has been tooth gems, which are taking over social media one shiny smile at a time. With the Y2K aesthetic well and truly ensconced in Gen Z fashion, it was only a matter of time before diamantes and stick-on jewels became a thing again.

Today’s tooth gems are reminiscent of dental grilles, which became popular in the ’90s with hip-hop artists and rappers, only instead of a set of diamond and gold covers, we are now seeing tiny gems used as highlights on a handful of teeth.

Celebrities like model Hailey Bieber and singers Rosalía, FKA Twigs, Drake and Katy Perry are sporting them, as are various influencers like Charli D’Amelio . If you are still unsure what tooth gems are or if they are right for you, read on.

What are tooth gems?

Tooth gems are tiny pieces of dental jewellery that are placed on the surface of one or several teeth with the help of a semi-permanent adhesive material. There are many shapes, types and sizes to choose from, from delicate metal brand logos to shiny, colourful diamantes.

How long do they last?

While some are designed to fall off after a few days, tooth gems generally last around six months. If properly applied and cared for, they can keep for up to two years.

According to New York-based cosmetic dentist Brian Kantor, how you eat and drink in the first 24 hours after application will have a huge effect on how long they last.

“You should only eat soft foods, and avoid using an electric toothbrush or drinking soda, coffee, or tea to protect the fresh bond,” he says, adding that picking or playing with your tooth gem is also a no-no.

What is the application process?

When navigating TikTok, you will run into dozens of videos of people claiming to have mastered the best application technique and influencers swearing by at-home kits that you can purchase to apply the gems yourself.

Dentists, though, strongly recommend against them.

Some of the adhesives in these do-it-yourself kits can be made with dangerous chemicals that can damage your teeth and gums, which is why it is better to have a professional do it for you.

The process is like that of applying braces, only no drills are involved. Dr Wesam Shafee, a New Jersey-based dentist with an emphasis on aesthetic dentistry, explains that these gems are glued to the surface of the tooth with the help of an etchant, an acidic material that helps the gem stick to your tooth’s enamel.

“The length of time a gem lasts can vary from a few months to a few years, mainly depending on the bonding technique of the dentist,” he says.

How much does it cost?

When considering tooth gems, there are two different things to keep in mind: the cost of the procedure and the cost of the gem.

“Usually, the in-office charge for applying the gem is about US$200 (S$280),” says Shafee. On top of that, you need to add what the gem itself will cost, and prices can range from US$30 to US$200, depending on size and material.

“For example, if you choose a diamond or real gold, you’ll probably spend more than if your gems were made of crystal.”

Are tooth gems safe?

Some dentists think people should stay away from gems entirely, as there is always the possibility that they might detach from your teeth without you noticing, which can lead to them being swallowed or breathed into the airways.

If the edges of the gem are not well attached to the surface of your tooth or if the application process was not properly done, there is also a chance that it will trap food and bacteria under or around it, which can result in tooth decay.

“Tooth gems can trap plaque and create places for stray food particles and harmful bacteria to hide,” says Kantor. However, there are ways to avoid this from happening. Committing to a good oral hygiene routine and keeping your gems as clean as possible is a must to avoid infections, gum irritation or decay.

Flossing every day, brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a gentle-formula toothpaste, and using a soft-bristle sonic brush will also help prevent food sticking to the gems.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.