MIDWAY : Tooth art

A considerable proportion of the dental industry is given over to keeping teeth white, but there is a growing maverick wing offering to discolour people’s teeth on purpose. Welcome to the next phase of expressive self-harm: the tooth tattoo.

When it comes to innovation in modern dentistry, Britain has always been, and should always remain shall we say, slightly behind the curve, so the idea that anyone would want a picture of Elvis on his left maxillary central incisor may strike some as unlikely; but in the United States tooth tattoos are being offered by an increasing number of dentists as the novel way of expressing one’s style statement and personality.

If you’re the sort of person who needs to be in the vanguard and doesn’t mind people coming up to you all day saying, “Hey, you’ve got something stuck on your teeth”, then this novel form of in-mouth scrimshaw could just be the perfect recipe for you.

The term “tooth tattoo” is slightly misleading. The design isn’t scratched on to your tooth per se, but baked on to a porcelain crown at a dental lab.

If you have second thoughts it can be ground off in a few minutes. Reluctant exhibitionists may even opt to have the tattoo done on the lingual side — the side of the tooth facing the tongue — although the point of a $200 tattoo that no one can see is hard to fathom, unless you’re looking for a quick way for pathologists to identify your remains, if noone happens to recognise you in case you are accidetally killed and buried.

It is to be hoped that most dentists would balk at the idea of grinding down a healthy tooth so someone can have a flag of the United States stuck on it, but Steve Heward, whose pioneering Heward Dental Labs in Utah have been offering the service for more than 20 years, suspects that this is not always the case.

“I hope they wait until they need a crown, but I bet some people have them done just because they want a piece of artwork on their tooth,” he says.

Either way, he can do you an eagle, Abe Lincoln, Mickey Mouse (may infringe copyright), or any number of other designs, all guaranteed to make you look like you’ve just finished chewing a box of crayons.