Mario Davis's Blog

March 11, 2011

Black teeth are betel than white

Flipping the middle finger in America can often lead to a black eye. Pointing a thumb in the Middle East is equivalent to the American one finger salute. In some cultures, leg crossing, maintaining eye contact and chewing gum also portray signs of disrespect. It is believed that non-verbal communication speaks louder than words, but how powerful is that type of communication?

Chewing betel root stains the teeth red.A Vietnamese woman shows her dark smile after chewing trau-cau over time.

One of the most popular and widely used signs of non verbal communication is the smile. A smile is symbolic of expressing happiness, appreciation and joy. It is believed that the whiter the teeth, the prettier the smile. Many people in the Western world practice teeth whitening as a means of enhancing oral hygiene and beauty. “Kodak smiles,” “pearly whites” and “celebrity teeth” are phrases used to describe a person with exceptionally white teeth. Nevertheless, in the countrysides of many Asian communities, namely Vietnam, the opposite technique of teeth blackening is used for the very same reasons attributed to teeth whitening. The question remains: which technique is better?

For thousands of years, chewing trau-cau has served as a widely practiced Vietnamese custom. “Trau” refers to betel, a bittersweet flavored leaf descending from the piperaceae tree and “cau,” or areca-nut as it is commonly known, is a seed descending from the areca palm. When chewed together, the trau-cau mixture releases a flavorful red liquid into the mouth which stains the teeth reddish brown over time.  To further the process, some Vietnamese lacquer their teeth jet black to maintain optimum beauty. This method is most commonly used by older women but is also practiced by some men and younger women as well.

"Trau-cau eating dates back to 2,879 B.C., during the time of the Hung Kings,” according to an article from the Vietnam Investment Review.

Ohaguro, or tooth-blackening began in Japan under the Heian Era and was practiced by many noblemen of various cultures to signify loyalty, honor and discipline in accordance to the Buddhist faith system. It was believed that black was a static color which visually symbolized strength. Women had ulterior motives for blackening their teeth. Women used Ohaguro to epitomize their beauty and indicate when they were ready for marriage. It signified unity and fidelity.

Compared to the Western civilization where fluoride serves as a necessity to preserve oral health, trau is still used in some Asian rural areas to develop firm teeth, good breath and healthy red lips.

“Ohaguro had the effect of protecting teeth from cavities and periodontitis,” said the Japan Society of Aesthetic Dentistry, according to the Japan Times.

Some believe that this technique could potentially prolong lives.

So are black teeth better than white? In the United States it might be a bit difficult to find a date with pearly black teeth. However, in certain areas of Vietnam, soul mates are chosen by the darkness of their smile. Therefore, unless you have plans of potentially moving to a rural Vietnam province anytime soon, I would suggest choosing white. Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is!