Snaggleteeth Trend in Japan Sparking Debate Among Oral Health Experts

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The yaeba or snaggletooth trend surfaced in Japan over the past few years, posing a large threat to oral health, leading to gum disease and gingivitis. The tooth trend is visible throughout Japanese pop culture, however, experts say the trend is marketed toward the gender identities of the younger Japanese generation. 

“You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”

 Albeit, a straight one.

This popular song lyric from the musical “Annie” rings true throughout American beauty culture, illustrated by the large number of people paying thousands of dollars to achieve an impeccable grin.

More than 4 million people in the United States wear braces according to Humana, an organization administering and marketing health insurance.

In a 2012 study conducted on behalf of the American Association of Orthodontists, 75 percent of those surveyed reported improvements to relationships post-braces. Ninety-two percent reported, due to their newfound sense of self confidence, they would recommend orthodontic treatment to others with imperfect teeth.

In Japan, however, dental beauty standards are a little crooked.

The “tseuke-yaeba” or more commonly, “yaeba,” trend surfaced in the country over the past few years, persuading younger Japanese to undergo a procedure to, often permanently, alter their smiles according to the Schulhof Center for Cosmetic Orthodontics, the practice of adult braces expert Dr. Adam Schulhof. The crookedness is intended to make an individual approachable by seeming imperfect and is marketed through media outlets and pop culture.

Literally translated as “multilayered” or “double-toothed,” the procedure involves capping the canine teeth in order to give them a more pointed, and sometimes staggered look, according to the Schulhof Center. The trend is typically sought out by younger patients in their teens and early twenties.

Dental Salon Plaisir, a dental office located in Tokyo, Japan, offers yaeba as one of their cosmetic services, describing the look as “cute” on its website. The patient can choose between two types of yaeba, which the website refers to as “left on” and “removable,” suggesting the patient select the best type for their needs during a scheduled consultation.

The removable yaeba costs 31,000 yen per tooth, which equals approximately $518 for a set, according to the Dental Salon Plaisir website. The left on yeaba costs 51,000 yen per tooth, totaling about $1000 for a set.

The practice released an infomercial in 2010, documenting parts of the yaeba procedure and walking viewers through the process from consultation to end results. At the end of the video, the customer appears happy with her new, vampire-like smile.

According to Dentist and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Restorative Sciences & Biomaterials at Boston University Dr. Hideo Yamamoto, yaeba poses a danger to oral health and should not be executed by dental professionals.

“It’s terrible,” Yamamoto says of yaeba. “The canine or eye-tooth is functionally an important tooth to guide the occlusion. If the canines are not in that right position the occlusion is not right.”

Yaeba can affect oral health in many ways, including bite misalignment and brushing problems which can led to a higher chance of gingivitis, tooth decay and cavities, according to the Schulhof Center.

“For oral hygiene purposes, the teeth overlapping or sticking out, the position is more difficult to clean and more food gets stuck and creates decay and gum disease,” Yamamoto says. “It’s nothing good.”

According to Yamamoto, young people inclined to get the yaeba procedure think the outlook is cute, which he explains is a reflection of the younger Japanese generation rather than wholly Japanese culture. However, he maintains the aesthetic outcome of yaeba is not worth the health risk.

“In Japan some pop culture says it’s very trendy, fashionable,” Yamamoto says. “It’s not really the culture in Japan, only the small number of the younger generation that think this is cute. I’m really disappointed in the dentists who try to do these kinds of things.”

Although the trend does not reflect Japanese culture in a broader sense, yaeba remains a visible part of the younger generation’s pop culture. Japan’s first yaeba-inspired singing group titled “TYB48” (Tseuke Yaeba 48) features three female members sporting yaeba. The group’s first album, “Mind if I Bite?” was released in 2011, sparking the tooth trend.

Taro Masuoka, the inventor of the procedure, created TYB48 according to DentistryiQ, a resource for dental professionals.

“Yaeba give girls an impish cuteness,” Masuoka told Japan Today. “It’s a sense of beauty unique to the Japanese, but yaeba can be an attractive feature on women in their teens and twenties.”

Images of the singers across the Internet, as well as some of their videos, show the young women in tight “school girl” style clothing, complete with short skirts and thigh high socks.

Aside from its pop culture popularity, it is still unclear why an individual would choose to alter their teeth through yaeba. According to Associate Professor of Marketing at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Maryland Dr. Lei Ye, gender identity is a driving factor in the decision leading to yaeba.

“I think [gender identity] plays a huge role,” Ye says. “It has a very strong influence on consumers and brand perceptions, including brand attitude and the brands they love. It seems like someone has to really, based on femininity, to be more tender in nature and want to show that part that they are a woman. They actually tend to choose some brand representing their personality well.”

Ye explains this type of marketing plays on both men and women using the men’s hygiene brand Old Spice as an example. The brand’s marketing targets both men and women, telling men they must use the product to be manly, while telling women that men who use Old Spice are the most manly.

This marketing technique can be related to yaeba consumers as well, according to Ye. If yaeba is marketed as feminine, those who identify their gender as feminine will participate. On the other side, it is marketed to those identifying as masculine looking for feminine partners, projecting yaeba as an attractive feminine trait.

“If you ever pay attention sometimes you see how to play up the sex actually creating a greater marketing result,” Ye says. “The reason is because they play the part of gender very well. It’s because they talk to both sexes. You have to think about why advertising tries to talk to the opposite sex.”

Aside from cultural and gender identity pressures, Dean of the Haworth College of Business and Professor of Marketing at Western Michigan University Kay Palan thinks younger consumers are more susceptible to participating in this health-damaging trend.

“Related to younger consumers, a lot of their competence as shoppers suggests that they really don’t develop until mid twenties,” Palan said. “Younger consumers tend to be a little bit more impulsive. They aren’t very independent in their thinking. The majority are worried about expressing themselves and fitting in.”

The trend draws similarities to other younger generation body altering trends, according to Palan. For example, younger people are more likely to get a body piercing or permanent tattoo. However, the health consequences of yaeba are higher than that of an extra earring or small tattoo.

“They don’t think long term, they live in the moment,” Palan said of the younger generation of consumers. “Media, the images we see in the collective, makes a huge difference into what consumers think and do especially if they’re younger and more vulnerable to those images.”

As far as yaeba making patients appear more approachable due to a flawed smile, Palan agrees it is viable in theory, however, seems somewhat counterproductive to the overall beauty aesthetic.

“In some way it kind of makes sense,” Palan says. “You don’t want to be too perfect so that people don’t feel like that they can approach you. To choose to make your body less than perfect seems to be taking it too far.”

Culture and gender identity aside, the long term effects of yaeba can cause serious and often irreversible damage to a patient’s oral health, and according to Yamamoto, is never a good idea.

“For me, it’s crazy,” Yamamoto says. It’s not really functionally or biologically the right thing to do.”

He would not recommend yaeba to patients under any circumstances.