Custom of Dyeing Teeth in Vietnam

Dyeing teeth is one of the ancient customs of peoples in some countries of Eastern Asia cultural sphere, such as China (South China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam…; however, the history, meaning, and technique dyeing of each nation are different. In this article, we will learn about the Custom of Dyeing Teeth in Vietnam in details.

Custom of Dyeing Teeth in Vietnam

Custom of Dyeing Teeth in Vietnam. Source:

History of Custom of Dyeing Teeth in Vietnam

According to legend, along with the betel chewing custom and the tattooing custom, the custom of dyeing teeth formed in the reign of Hung Vuong (2879 – 258). For a long time almost Vietnamese people from the poor to the rich, from the peasantry to the mandarins, the landlords, the royals, and the kings all dyed their teeth. Around 1862, when Western civilization strongly penetrated into Vietnam, and especially in the early years of the 20th century, this custom decreased and gradually disappeared.

Meaning of dyeing teeth

The custom of blackening teeth is first from an aesthetic point of view. In literature, the custom of blackening teeth and black teeth of women are praised as an indispensable beauty:

“Black teeth, who dyed for you?

Making our relationship beautiful, making me passionate.”(Vietnamese folk-song)


“Getting a husband deserves a husband,

No waste of making up pink cheeks, black teeth” (Vietnamese folk-song)

In addition to the aesthetic point of view, national awareness in distinguishing the two cultures of the South (Vietnam) and the North (China) is also the reason why Vietnamese people dyed their teeth. Being Vietnamese people whether male or female from 16 to 17 years old had to dye their teeth black. Those who left white teeth were despised because they are thought to be hybrids, folk often used the phrase “White teeth like Wu’s teeth” (Wu was a state belonging to ancient China). In the XVIII (1789), in Quang Trung’s call to fight the Qing army, there sentences:

“Beating it for long hair

Beating it for black teeth.”

Dyeing technique

People only dye their teeth after having completely replaced their baby teeth, which is the best time for dyeing because, at that time, their teeth are still young, the permeability of the dye is easier to attach to the tooth enamel. Dental dyes include the following basic ingredients:

– Shellac,

– Lemon juice,

– Black alum,

– The plastic of coconut shells.

The way of blackening teeth is described shortly as follows:

– Initially, the mouth and teeth must be cleaned thoroughly with dried areca shell, charcoal, and salt,

– Hold in one’s mouth with lemon juice mixed with white alcohol to soften the tooth enamel,

– Apply the black solution to the teeth (Shellac, black alum, the plastic of coconut shells

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