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I just got braces put on my teeth a few weeks ago khổng lồ correct a bite problem. I’m going khổng lồ be stuck with them for about 24 months. Already, it is starting to lớn bug the crap out of me. It’s no fun at all, especially since I am a full-grown adult và not a teenager in high school.

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Normally, I don’t even think about such mundane things as teeth, but because my braces have caused me to focus on them ALL THE TIME, they are never far from my mind, partly because they are uncomfortable và partly because I am not used lớn them yet. This then leads me khổng lồ think about teeth & how the Vietnamese women in earlier times used lớn care for them.

If I had been born just 100 years earlier, my family would have blackened my teeth once I hit puberty.

No joke.

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This is an image of a woman with dyed black teeth from north Vietnam circa 1900. That’s roughly a bit over 100 years ago. It may not look like it now, but back then, it was all the rage. There were two main reasons for the black teeth.

1. It was a very effective teeth bonding procedure which kept the teeth from getting carries. My grandmother kept every single one of her blackened teeth, up till the day she died. According to studies done by scientists*, fresh soot of certain trees, when applied lớn the teeth as a dye, would inhibited the growth of salivary mutans streptococci and prevent dental carries. The women who had their teeth blackened in this manner kept all their teeth throughout their lives, and given the fact that dentists were nonexistent in those days, the idea of keeping one’s teeth into old age was something that had to lớn have been a great alternative lớn having teeth rot out of their mouths. Ancient human remains showed skeletons with black-dyed teeth, complete & full, with no damage even after all those years. That’s amazing!

2. Since most South-East-Asians looked the same, it was hard lớn tell the difference between a Vietnamese person & a Chinese person living in the same community. The only way to know was to lớn look at the females when they smiled. If they had trắng teeth, they were Chinese. If they had black teeth, they were Vietnamese. Intentional dying of the teeth by Viet women was used khổng lồ differentiate và retain the customs of the Vietnamese culture. It was also to lớn keep the guys interested. Viet guys only wanted girls who had black teeth because they thought it looked HOT!!!

It was great! The girls got to keep all their teeth, & it also kept the guys from getting confused as to which girl lớn go out with. I’d say that was a win-win situation.

As a child, I’d always thought it was a rather bizarre custom. Black is a rather unnatural color for teeth, methinks—until I see pictures like these:

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And then I think khổng lồ myself, this is not a natural màu sắc either. Europeans hotline this ‘American Teeth’, as this màu sắc does not occur naturally in human teeth of any race or ethnicity. It can only be obtained through deliberate dyeing or bleaching of the teeth.

In any case, dyeing teeth black is an ancient tradition that is no longer followed. The only ones left around who still have dyed đen teeth are women approaching the centennial mark. However, it is a notable northern Vietnamese tradition so I thought I’d mention it, along with a recipe, just in case someone wanted lớn try it out.

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Black Teeth Dye

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Ingredients:Powdered coal mixed with saltLemon slicesLemon juiceRice wineShellac (made from secretions of an aphid-like insect that feeds on sap)Iron (or copper) filingsburnt coconut shellsSmall piece of cloth

Directions:1. Thoroughly clean teeth with powdered coal mixed with salt. Do not eat anything solid or hot at any time during the process.

2. Hold pieces of lemon in the mouth and drink rice wine mixed with lemon juice to lớn eroded the enamel and create pits in teeth khổng lồ allow for better adherence of the dye. Vì chưng this for three days.Caution: This may caused soreness và swelling of the lips, tongue, & gums.

3. Apply shellac và lemon juice using a cloth soaked with this mixture. Keep it on the teeth over several days & nights without taking it out. This will turned the teeth a dark red color.

4. Apply a solution of iron or copper filings which will react with the shellac và turn it black.

5. Add extra shine by rubbing soot from burnt coconut shells.

And just to showroom a bit of culture to this post, here is an ancient poem called the Ten Loves which talks about the đen dyed teeth of the Viet ladies.

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Mười yêu quý Ten Loves

Một yêu thương tóc quăng quật đuôi con gà One love, your hair in a pony tail hai thương nạp năng lượng nói mặn mà có duyên Two love, the way you talk so passionate và sweetBa thương má lúm đồng tiền Three love, your dimpled cheeksBốn yêu mến răng lánh hạt huyền kém thua Four love, your teeth like shinny black seedsNăm mến cổ yếm treo bùa Five love, the charm around your neckSáu yêu thương nón thượng quai tua nữ tính Six love, your tassled mountain hatBảy yêu quý nết ở chí lý Seven love, your smart và gentle waysTám thương ăn nói lại càng thêm xinh Eight love, the lovely way you talkChín yêu thương cô ở 1 mình Nine love, you live aloneMười thương nhỏ mắt thơ mộng với ai Ten love, your loving eyes at someone (me)