Richmond earning reputation for grillz as new dental jewelry shop adds options
on November 28, 2021
Bolo Quesada was 13 when his older brothers inspired him to get his first pair of gold grillz.
“It used to be a specific type of person that had grillz,” Quesada, who is now in his early 30s, says. “It went from the dope boys to now the average kid getting them.”
Grillz, the dental jewelry typically made of gold and encrusted with diamonds or other gems, has exploded in popularity. And grillz shops have popped up across the country, including in Richmond, where Quesada works at The Grill Guys, which opened just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Painted black like a gapped tooth in a row of brightly colored buildings on 23rd Street, The Grill Guys is making up for lost time.
The popularity of grillz exploded in 2005 when rapper Nelly glorified the fashion accessory with a high-chimed, tooth-sparkling music track called “Grillz,” featuring Paul Wall, a Houston-based entrepreneur and grillz icon.
“Call me George Foreman ‘cause I’m selling everybody grillz,” raps Wall in the music video featuring a cameo of Johnny Dang, celebrity grill-maker.
After that, kids were molding gum wrappers onto their teeth, recalls Valentina Casas, a 26-year-old bench-worker at The Grill Guys.
Dental jewelry has rotated in and out of fashion throughout history.
Archaeologists discovered Etruscans used gold-wired dental accessories to hold in false teeth in the seventh century B.C.
Noble Mayans left evidence of jade-engraved teeth, which signified status.
In the 1980s, southern hip-hop brought jeweled teeth to the cultural stage. And in the ’90s, Oakland became a hub for grill designers.
Alexander hopes to host exchanges of knowledge with other area jewelers, and he wants to make the grill culture something Richmond is known for.
How it’s done
At The Grill Guys, Quesada crafts a mold of teeth, then makes a wax lining for gold to be injected into. Casas then files, details and polishes the piece, residual gold dust shimmering on her hands and clothes. Under the microscope, she scrutinizes the work, ensuring she gets the “deep-cut” that makes the gold covering look like individual teeth. If there’s a mistake, the only solution is to melt the gold and start again.
Alexander takes a final look over the piece before encrusting it with gems. The process takes about two weeks.
Each grill costs about $95 a tooth. Clients usually start with at least six.
Grillz are mostly removable, worn strictly for fashion and not for practical uses like mouth guards. But the truly committed cement them permanently. For such clients, Alexander recommends they go to someone in the dental industry, like Dang, the celebrity grill-maker.
There are no studies to show that removable grillz are harmful to the mouth, according to the American Dental Association, which cautions there are no studies that show long-term wear is safe, either.
Lamar Barr started with a set of fangs and six bottom gold teeth when he was 15. He recently upgraded to a 10-on-10 full set diamond piece at The Grill Guys.
“The player mouthpiece,” Quesada joked.
With dental work expensive, many customers use mouth jewelry to fix crooked or missing teeth, Alexander said.
Giving people a reason to smile is what Alexander bases his business on, hoping that his clients “smile often,” a catch phrase and hashtag used by The Grill Guys.
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