Ohaguru is the curious name given in Japan to the custom or tradition of dyeing one’s teeth black. It was mainly done by married women, some men of high social class and the samurai.
There are several versions about the origin and meaning but there is a reason in which they all agree and that is that they did it with aesthetic purposes. On the one hand, it seems that the emperor of Japan decreed that all important married women should not appear in public with white teeth, since dyeing them black meant wealth, sexual maturity and beauty. Later this tradition was extended to almost all women, single, married, rich and poor, and above all it was used to imply that young, almost female, women were ‘ready for marriage’.
Another version says that the women had to do it as a symbol of submission to the man, because in this way, the attractive smile that a beautiful lady could have was hidden behind the darkness.
On the other hand, it was also considered a sign of health since the teeth were protected, that’s true, with a kind of varnish that they prepared with earthy oxide, tea and sake and they thought that this would keep them healthy for longer.
For whatever reason, this custom or tradition gave birth to another one, which is still in force today in some parts of Asia. When the fashion for black teeth started to decline, Japanese women, when laughing, covered their mouths with their hands as they were ashamed of their smiles.
It seems that this sign of ‘beauty’ fell into disuse when, according to some authors, the empress who reigned at the end of the 19th century appeared in public with white teeth. Soon after, the government banned this practice (thank God).
And then there is the western world where the fashion in dental aesthetics is quite the opposite, white or extremely white teeth in some cases. Blancorexia, is the term used to define the obsession that some people have for having white teeth, sometimes even putting their oral health at risk by undergoing recurrent whitening treatments and remedies of doubtful effectiveness.
What is undoubtedly true is that a smile with white, aligned teeth and gums in good condition transmits youth, health and beauty.