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Ideas about what is beautiful can differ with culture and time period. For us, a beautiful smile means a straight, white one. But for those in different cultures and time periods, it meant something very different.

Teeth Blackening

This tradition was called ohaguro in Japan, but it used to be practiced by women in several Asian countries. Once they married, women would blacken their teeth using an iron-based dye to show their status and maturity. Women may have also blackened their teeth because the white face powder they often wore gave white teeth a yellowish hue in contrast.

Red Ridges

The Scandinavian Vikings didn’t alter their teeth for beauty, but for power and fear. In order to intimidate their enemies in battle, the Vikings carved grooves into the front surface of their teeth which they painted red.

Pointed Shark Teeth

Tooth filing is an archaic tradition from Africa, Asia, and Mesoamerica, but for the Mentawai Islanders of Indonesia, it is still current. When the women reach puberty, they file their teeth until they look like the pointed teeth of a shark. The Mentawai consider these pointy teeth to be beautiful, and they believe that if the soul doesn’t like how the body looks then it will sicken and die.