Mantawai woman from Indonesia, (Bogdans 2014)

Tooth chiseling is a lesser known form of body modification that is used for some as a necessary spiritual and physical process. Other people (think Twilight fans and people who find fangs attractive) do this purely for enjoyment of body modification.

Using crude instruments and no anesthetic, tribal peoples have their teeth chiseled. Some Americans go through this procedure for a fang-like effect, but it’s mainly carried out by Brahmins or other spiritual leaders (www.huffingtonpost.com). This practice is a spiritual ritual for Mentawai tribe in Indonesia (Bogdans 2014) for maintaining balance between body and soul.  Not only is this used for balance, but husbands often ask their wives to get this painful procedure done in order to become more beautiful.  In 19th Century Africa, this process was used for a burying ritual and in addition to scarification of the face and body (dianabuja.wordpress.com). The tools weren’t specifically listed in these articles, but it looked like sharpened metal hand tools similar to cake-serving tools.

 

Tribespeople of Bopoto, Northern Congo circa 1912. https://dianabuja.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/teeth-filing-as-a-mark-of-beauty-and-belonging-in-19th-century-africa/

 

This practice of body modification made me woozy to read about because the simple act of getting a filling from the dentist WITH anesthetic is nerve wrecking. The tribes that do this use it for beautification and never use anesthetics based off of what I researched. People that go through this process do it for spiritual reasons, regardless of the permanent damage that it causes the body. I would say that it is misunderstood by most (including myself) because it’s such an invasive, damaging form of modification. While it gives many that strong sense of belonging, going through such a harsh process means that their teeth will fall out and be ruined almost immediately. Other countries don’t remove wisdom teeth or appendixes like we do in the United States, so I guess I’m being more judgmental than necessary about the practice. It seemed primitive at first, but after reading through spiritual reasoning, it equated to me the same way that braces or wearing corsets in America do.

American who underwent teeth sharpening along with a myriad of other modifications (Sinclair 2013).

Here’s a link to a tooth sharpening ritual in Indonesia:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=314KpEm88LU

(Do not watch if you’re easily sickened by dental work)!

Tooth sharpening by Twilight fans:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeyTr9-a_wU

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bogdans, Rachel. “Beauty Rituals: Teeth Chiseling.” Idigculturecom, 18 Apr. 2014, idigculture.com/beauty-rituals-teeth-chiseling.

Organization. “Indonesian Tribal Women Endure Painful Dental Custom.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/29/indonesia-teeth-chiseling-_n_855472.html.

Sinclair, John. “Teeth and Body Modification.” Dental Blog, 6 Sept. 2013, santarosadentist.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/teeth-and-body-modification/.

“Teeth-Filing as a Mark of Beauty and Belonging in 19th Century Africa.” DIANABUJA’S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture, 20 Mar. 2012, dianabuja.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/teeth-filing-as-a-mark-of-beauty-and-belonging-in-19th-century-africa/.


Mikalah Lake is a student at Old Dominion University pursuing a B.S. in Women’s Studies with a minor in Psychology. Causes that are particularly important to her are women’s rights, environmental awareness, leadership, civic duty, and mental health awareness. After completing her B.S. degree, her dream is to pursue a Master of Public Health Education degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School.