Slated by The Guardian as 'the next phase of expressive self-harm', the tooth tattoos created by the Heward Dental Lab have attracted global interest since their website, www.toothartist.com, went online earlier this year. Unable to resist such a salacious headline, we asked Steve Heward, the lab’s owner and chief artist, for the real story.
“I studied as a portrait painter at the University of Utah in the 1970s,” Steve explained. “When I started working at a dental lab as the head ceramist, I wanted to show both the dentists and the patients what I was capable of creating on their crowns.”
Steve uses ceramic stain and a one-haired brush to paint unique portraits on to crown and bridgework, then bakes and glazes the teeth to set the designs. The resulting work costs anything between 0-0 depending on the intricacy of the design, and can be shipped to the customer for fitting by his or her own dentist.
“I’m not really into miniature paintings,” Steve confided, “but these little portraits are extremely challenging to create, and I like the fact that they’ll be around somewhere without fading or deteriorating. They’ll outlive the Mona Lisa.”
An ambitious statement perhaps, but Steve takes great pride in training his technicians to the highest level, and there’s certainly no shortage of demand for the lab’s work. “I think many people who would never choose to have a regular tattoo will choose to have one of these,” Steve mused, “because they can go swimming or anywhere else, and no-one needs to know they have it done; they can keep their secret their own.”
So does he have a secret of his own? “Not yet, but I will when I need a crown. My daughter has one and my youngest son has three in his mouth.”