Can Lil Wayne bring his teeth to prison?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 22 2010 6:15 PM

Can Lil Wayne Bring His Teeth to Prison?

Grills behind bars, explained.

Li'l Wayne. Click image to expand.
Lil Wayne 

Lil Wayne underwent a massive dental operation last week, postponing the rapper's sentencing on an attempted-gun-possession charge until early March. The surgery was reported to have included eight root canals and other work on his gold- and diamond-encrusted teeth, which he claims are worth $150,000. Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. will serve up to one year at New York's Rikers Island prison, where cash is prohibited and valuables are stringently curbed. Can Weezy bring his teeth?

Yes. No written rules appear to govern the permissibility of dental implants in prison. Neither the Federal Bureau of Prisons nor New York City's Department of Correction explicitly regulates them. Yet it seems like Carter might have a tough time justifying his gaudy chompers to the warden. Prisons impose strict limits on jewelry, so as to avoid its being used in barter for contraband items like drugs and McDonald's hamburgers and to prevent unnecessary fighting. At Rikers, for instance, inmates are restricted to one watch cheaper than $50, one wedding ring with a maximum value of $150, and one religious medallion worth less than $50. Neither the ring nor the medallion can have any "stones" or "protrusions," a rule which would certainly be violated by Carter's bedazzled grill.

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On the other hand, wedding rings and watches are easily removable, while Carter's gold and diamonds are not. Since his jewelry will stay in his mouth, it's less likely to be stolen or swapped for cell phones. Carter has made a point of saying that his dental work is more or less permanent. "The grills—the grills, they come out," he told Jimmy Kimmel recently. "These don't, I'ma die with these. So these are my teeth. I can go to the dentist and switch them out, but it's surgery." Indeed, Carter's jewelry may be critical to his masticatory function. Grills are generally considered detrimental to oral hygiene, but they could be a medical necessity if you don't have anything else to chew with. (Carter has described them as "my form of braces.") Other inmates are allowed to bring gold fillings to prison, as well as expensive hearing aids.

Though the official policies are mum on Carter's dentition, precedent is on his side. Since the 1990s, when grills came into vogue, Rikers dentists have encountered inmates with similar, if less expensive, grills about once every few months. The designs range from inmates' names spelled in gold to less intricate "windows," in which the perimeter rather than the entirety of the tooth is gilded. Dental care at Rikers and other prisons would never cover the cost of implanting grills or other "removable partial dentures," though the prison dentists will re-cement a grill in place if it begins to become detached. Silver-amalgam fillings, root canals, and the occasional crown are also available.

It's possible that Wayne's root canal extravaganza entailed the removal of the diamonds, perhaps to avoid excess attention from fellow inmates.Media accounts of the surgery suggest otherwise, and calls to his publicist weren't returned.

Got a question about today's news?  Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Felicia Ponce of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Marianne Molfetas, DDS.

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