Ohaguro: Ancient Japanese Cosmetic Dental Treatment

Some of you have probably seen Japanese artwork that features “ohaguro,” women who have black teeth. Did you know that this practice of blackening one’s teeth was actually a cosmetic dental treatment?

Sounds (and looks) bizarre, but it’s true.



(c) Prints of Japan

The word “ohaguro” literally means black teeth. In Japanese, “ha” means teeth and “guro” is a derivative of “kuro” which means black.

The practice of ohaguro goes back thousands of years to prehistoric Japan. It was originally mainly done by members of the Japanese imperial family and aristocrats. However, as most trends do, this changed many times throughout different periods of history.


  • Heian period (794 – 1185) – Young men and women in aristocratic society. Also some samurai towards the end of Heian period.
  • Muromachi period (1336 – 1573) – Male and female adults.
    • Sengoku period (mid-15th century to beginning of 17th century) – Young girls during their coming of age.
  • Edo period (1603 – 1868) – Married women. Number of men applying ohaguro decreases.
  • Pre-War Empire of Japan (1868-1945) – Ohaguro banned by the Japanese government in 1870.

Dental Benefits?

There have been some studies that found ohaguro had practical benefits as well. It may have served as an ancient dental treatment against tooth decay and periodontitis. The ferrous acetate (iron filings broken down in vinegar) is thought to be the key ingredient in ohaguro that prevented tooth decay.

Let’s Talk: Would you ever blacken your teeth if it came back in style?

NOTE: Information for this blog was provided by the dentist/dental clinic or retrieved from the public domain. This is not an advertisement. Inclusion in this blog is not an endorsement by The Dental Card and is provided for informational purposes only.

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