There exists a dichotomy in people’s preferences for teeth color. First, people make use of various implements and go through teeth whitening procedures that fit them to achieve a pearly white smile, and sometimes even, they do not mind if some of these substances cause a bit of damage to the enamel. Regardless, having white teeth has long been a western aesthetic; as with the yin-yang, the white is situated on the left.
What about the black side? You may presume that surely, no one wants black teeth; but contrary to popular belief, various cultures in the world deem blackened teeth beautiful. If anyone had teeth gap, they would simply disappear in the black dyes.
In most cases, dying the teeth black was done by more women than men, although the custom is or was practiced by both genders. Some tribes still dye their teeth black, while in other places, its popularity has nearly died. This was usually done to mark one’s coming out in society, or as a mark of maturity. These customs are predominantly found in several parts in Asia. Below are two examples:
- In Japan, the practice of blackening teeth is called ohaguro. Women would dye their teeth by dissolving iron filings in vinegar to produce ferric acetate, which is then combined with tannins in tea powder or gallnut powder and the solution thus turns black. It is not soluble by water. These days, there are only a few places and occasions where this custom can be witnessed: in some hanamachi (geisha houses), holidays or festivals, or in films.
- In the Philippines, on the other hand, a tribe in Southern Mindanao called the B’laan deem blackened teeth to be beautiful and fitting for humans, because white teeth are associated with the teeth of animals. They darkened their teeth not only for aesthetic reasons, but also because it helps prevent tooth decay. They did this by filing their teeth with a rough stone and then rub their teeth with the ash from heated coconut husk burnt in wood fire. The elders of the tribe lament, however, that they are beginning to see the death of their traditions as the younger ones no longer wish to continue teeth blackening due in huge part to the teasing that they get from children in other religious and ethnic denominations.
According to experts, cultures that practice teeth blackening have been found to be able to keep all their teeth until old age, as it coats the teeth with substances that serve as barriers against bacteria.