Show Us that Betel Nut Smile

While a coffee or cigarette habit might leave a stain on your teeth, that dull yellow hue is nothing compared to the effect of the betel nut. The juice produced while chewing this mild stimulant can lead to red, or even black, teeth. As a result, most urban young people in East and South Asia refrain from the age-old habit, opting for vices like smoking which do not do so much damage to outward appearances until later in life. But for older people and some country-folk, the tradition of chewing continues.

But what does betel nut (also called areca nut) do for you? Aside from having important symbolism in many cultures (it is often used at weddings as a sign of love and longevity), it provides a buzz similar to drinking an espresso. Though the nut, which is often chewed wrapped in a betel leaf, is natural, it has been linked to cancer in several medical studies.

With the sheer number of pictures of betel nut chewers smiling, one might think that perhaps the health risks and tooth discoloration are worth it. Though the U.S. has tried to control the import of betel with heavy taxes, it is still available in many Asian grocery stores.