Trigger warning: this article discusses racial identity, slavery, colonization, extraction of teeth and oral sex. Although the descriptions are mostly non-graphic please do not continue reading if you know that you will be offended or uncomfortable. Thank you.
In Cape Town, South Africa my hometown there is a trend which even I myself find unusual that is of extracting your front teeth. Let me stress the point often the teeth are healthy and illegal “dentists” extract them. This trend is popular amongst Coloured people who live on the Cape Flats, a township which I’m originally from. Explaining the term Coloured is difficult. Coloured is a race group and it was created by the Apartheid state to classify people who are of mixed race descent. The trickiness is that it could mean that you had a black father and a white mother. It could mean that your DNA is diverse since you are the product of generational interracial relationships. I identify as coloured but I see “ colouredness” as a subset of Black. So although I’m light skinned with blonde hair I am black as well as coloured confusing right. To me though just like you get different kinds of Black people Xhosa, Zulu, Venda etc in South Africa my tribe is Coloured so I’m Black and Coloured at the same time.
Back to the point after confusing you, some people walk without their front teeth in Cape Town. I know people from church and close family friends who do this or they have had dentures created with a gold tooth, a few golden teeth, golden slits, gems you name it. These dentures have their own style connotations. I had 11 teeth removed. 8 of them were my front teeth because my mouth is too small and my teeth are enormous. They grew on top of each other which caused me lots of pain and made it difficult to brush them. I couldn’t afford braces and waited to get them from a government-funded facility but, by the time I turned 19 my mouth was bleeding every time I ate and I decided to have my teeth pulled. I have a high tolerance for pain so it wasn’t that bad and I had all six pulled at once. For me this wasn’t for cosmetic purposes. I have been asked by many people if I did it because it’s a trend in Cape Town including an Australian researcher who I worked with for a while. He also asked me why it’s done honestly I told him I think it’s a style thing but I really don’t know. I have been wondering about this extraction trend which is dubbed the passion gap. So I searched online and here are my results.
Myths and inconclusive facts
There are myths that it might be a trend today because Cape Malay slaves in Cape Town removed their teeth in order to oppose people who made use of slaves and potential enslavers. Slaves had their teeth inspected before being auctioned off. Pulling out ones’ teeth was, therefore, an act of defiance (Thompson, 2018). Others claim that the slaves had their front teeth removed to stop them from breaking free by biting into ropes which tied them up (Hamman,2018). There’s also rumours that the Khoi and San had their front teeth forcefully removed by colonizers to stop them from clicking which is an integral part of the languages of these tribes (Ibid,2018). Another rumour is that Cape fishermen have their front teeth extracted because it allows them to whistle better which is something that some Canadian fishermen have reported as well (Ibid, 2018).
In more modern times it is said that gangsters knock out the front teeth of prison “wives” in order to receive better oral sex and to mark the person. There’s no factual evidence to substantiate this claim but prisons in South Africa and Cape Town are scary and gangsterism is rife (Thompson, 2018). Fake dentures are decorated to show gang affiliation amongst those who rank high up in the gang hierarchy according to some gangsters (Hamman, 2018)
“According to the Oral Hygienists’ Association of South Africa, one of the most comprehensive studies interviewed 2,167 coloured people, of which 41% had had their teeth removed. The study was also inconclusive, with respondents citing better smiles, improved kissing and oral sex and louder whistling” (Thompson, 2018). Another study conducted by the University of Cape Town by Dr Friedling and Professor Morries surveyed 2167 Capetonians between the ages of 15-83. From 8 communities in the Northern Suburbs area, they concluded that 41% of respondents had their front teeth removed. Of this group 42.6% had it done due to peer pressure 36.3 % did it to look good and be fashion forward 11% did it because of medical issues or because of accidents and 10.1% did it because they were affiliated to gangs (Hamman, 2018). This study provides more information but, doesn’t cover the Cape Flats which is where the procedure is most popular.
I know of people who have had it done like my sister who was tripped and had her front teeth badly damaged so she had to extract them and people like me who had teeth which were growing incorrectly. Some people with rotten teeth who couldn’t afford procedures which could have saved their teeth were forced to extract their teeth. My mom who had all her teeth removed to have dentures made because I quote “ All the old people I saw had ugly teeth. I can’t afford dentist checkups so I had everything pulled out” She too has slits of gold so although she won’t admit it I think my mom likes the way her dentures look. There are people who do it to fit in like a girl I used to study with at university who had it done to fit in. Others think it looks great. The improved kissing and oral sex reason are widely cited as reasons why too. So there are many reasons. History is vague on the subject so we might never know if the tales of subversive slaves are rooted in fact. The main reason I have heard from people is that they had their front teeth removed to look good. But, still, I never conducted an accurate research project on this so my opinion is that the reasons are varied and inconclusive.
One thing that I’m sure of is that there tends to be judgement towards people who have had this done amongst some people. I can see the humour in it and confusion as to why someone would willingly have healthy teeth pulled out. But, it’s wrong to see someone as less human, lower class, less educated because they had their teeth removed. Even if someone did it to look good it is after all their choice. However, many people agree that it is a dying trend as people who had their front teeth regret it and tell others not to have it done. More awareness is being spread regarding oral health and why having healthy teeth removed isn’t good for dental health. So who knows maybe the passion gap will go extinct soon the video below touches on this. For now, it’s part of the culture of Cape Town.
Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate your comments and support. This time I can’t answer the question I asked myself but who knows maybe someone will conduct more research on this topic soon. Have you had a tooth removed? If you want to share your experiences and keep reading my blog pretty please.
Thompson, A.(2018). Why Some Locals in Cape Town Remove Their Front Teeth, retrieved from: https://theculturetrip.com/africa/south-africa/articles/why-some-locals-in-cape-town remove-their-front-teeth/
Hamman, M .(2018). What’s the deal with Passion Gaps, Cape Town Magazine, retrieved from: https://www.capetownmagazine.com
Wishing you many happy travels through the journey of life!
xxx Nikki xxx