Grin and bare it

With a grill you can look different without altering anything, without piercing anything,” says Mr. Grillz employee Edward Lopez. Lopez’s grill, a 14k-gold, diamond-encrusted front valued at $2,500, covers about half of his top row of teeth. “It’s like a costume.”

Mr. Grillz is banking on the latest grill resurrection. The three-month-old business has opened locations in South Park, Ingram Park, and Rivercenter malls. Brothers Sonny and Zam Lokhandwala say they also have Mr. Grillz set up in Austin, Killeen, and Tampa, Florida.

The cosmetic dental jewerly is fitted like a mouthpiece, and can be made from a number of different materials, including gold, silver, and platinum. Removable grills can also be customized with designs and embedded gems, till your teeth are “gleaming like I’m chewin’ on aluminum foil” as Paul Wall raps in Nelly’s 2005 single “Grillz.”

The chunky tooth ornaments have evolved over the years, popping back up in the most unlikely of places just when you thought they’d gone the way of lip plugs and scarification. Since Nelly gave the “smile on the rocks” its latest boost, that whitest of white-trashy stars Jessica Simpson wore a grill onstage at the August 2006 Teen Choice Awards.

Not everyone is ready to grin and bling it.

“Who would even wear that?” asked Brackenridge High School student Kimmy Huron at South Park Mall, pointing to a grill with red, white, and green stones designed to look like a Mexican flag. “I think `grills` are dumb and a waste of money. Guys just get them to cover up their ugly teeth.”

Although Huron concedes that some men can pull off the look, she says the majority of grill-wearers look ridiculous — including (and perhaps especially) her 14-year-old brother, who, she said, spent this past summer working construction with his grandfather to save up money to purchase gold teeth.

“I think they do it because they don’t have anything better to spend their money on,” Huron said. “They do it to put up a front.”

The recent grill resurgence has led to a few changes in local high-school dress-code policies. One of the first Texas school districts to add grills to their list of prohibited items was the Arlington Independent School District, whose ’06-’07 dress code reads as follows: “Mouth ‘grillz’ are not permitted. The determination of what constitutes a ‘grill’ is within the discretion of the principals.”

“Grills were becoming more and more popular and they were causing disruption in the classroom,” said Veronica Sopher, AISD director of communications. “Anytime there is a disruption in the classroom caused by something a student brings, we look at the item and evaluate its purpose.”

Other Texas districts have followed AISD’s lead. In San Antonio, not all 18 school districts inside Loop 1604 have made it a point to specifically ban grills but some use inclusive phrases — like East Central ISD’s “no facial jewelry other than the ear” — to crack down on grills.

“We don’t like to be too specific on our dress code because there are always circumstances that come up that we may not have foreseen,” said Clyde Peacock, assistant superintendent for student services at ECISD. “We found that if you get too specific there are things that you don’t cover that you’ll need to cover later.”

But some local districts, including Northside, Southwest, and Judson, have decided this year to include a definitive grills ban. In Southwest’s student handbook, the dress code includes the words “teeth jewelry is prohibited.”

“Grills are a big distraction,” said Pascual Gonzalez, executive director of communications at Northside Independent School District, which in August voted to include grills in its list of banned items. “Our only concern is that our schools remain orderly and conducive to learning. Whether it’s teeth jewelry or spiked orange-and-green hair, we’re not going to allow it.”

But it’s not just impressionable, fickle, and often cash-poor teens driving this trend. Chris Reed, 26, already owns two $3,000 models at home. He says it is all about owning the best merchandise money can buy. “It’s a fashion statement,” he says, flipping through a catalog at Mr. Grillz. “It’s an attention grabber and it gets the ladies. It’s the same reason people buy expensive suits or an expensive car. They wanna stand out.”

Aspiring rapper Mark Gonzalez (aka Chulo Boy) is looking forward to getting his first grill for his 21st birthday.

“I like getting attention,” he said. “It’s like when a girl gets their nails done to make them feel special. When I get my grill, I’ll feel good about myself.”


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