In the United States, one of the newest trends in orthodontia is the adult pursuit of straight teeth. While plenty of adolescents get fitted with the teeth-straightening metal, the American Association of Orthodontists reported that the number of braces patients over 18 years old leaped 58 percent from 1994 to 2010. Indeed, the oral beauty standard in the States could be summed up: the straighter and whiter, the better.
Take a trip across the Pacific to Japan, and a very different dental trend has caught on, especially among younger women. First publicized in 2011, some Japanese girls are opting for intentionally crooked teeth. For about $400, cosmetic dentists affix fake pointy teeth called yaeba, translated ‘double teeth,’ that creates an illusion of having crowded baby teeth, a.k.a. snaggleteeth. Fang-like teeth are considered cute and girlish in contemporary Japanese culture, and one of the dentists who first began performing the procedure also has pushed for its popularization by creating an all-girl, snaggletooth pop group TYB48, or Tseuke-Yaeba 48. The dentist/band manager told Japan Today:
“A lot of my patients are fashion-conscious and very cute. I wanted to find some way to take advantage of this, so I formed TYB48,”
Cultural observers and academics also see some less superficial reasons behind the snaggletooth fad. Speaking to The New York Times in 2011, Dr. Emilie Zaslow who specializes in gender identity and beauty ideals said yaeba is a form of simultaneously infantilizing and sexualizing young women:
“The gapped tooth is sort of preorthodontic or early development, and the naturally occurring yaeba is because of delayed baby teeth, or a mouth that’s too small,” she said. “It’s this kind of emphasis on youth and the sexualization of young girls.”
More recently, Japanese cultural observer and author Roland Kelts told Yahoo! Shine that the teeth reflect Japanese men’s down-shifting gender roles:
“The ‘girl next door’ look of accessibility and plainness is especially popular in Japan right now partly, I think, because Japanese men feel so weak in the face of a stagnant economy and fast-shifting gender roles,” Kelts told Yahoo! Shine. “Marriage and birth rates in Japan are at historic lows. A too-perfect set of teeth, or anything else, can be intimidating when your role in society is imperiled.”
Whatever the gendered meaning behind the trend, the tooth damage possibly happening behind the glued-on snaggleteeth could certainly have long-term effects as well. The temporary dentures of sorts can promote tooth fractures, decay, bacteria buildup and jaw strain. And so far, there’s no word on whether the girls of TYB48 will receive a free de-fanging once their musical gig is up.