Why is the beauty industry cashing in on our teeth?

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From time-saving toothbrushes to Instagram-friendly toothpaste, the latest beauty innovations are all about teeth. But why have gnashers become booming business? Elizabeth Bennett investigates

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By Elizabeth Bennett on

Whether it’s aromatherapy bath oils or crystal-infused skincare, the lines between beauty and wellness are becoming more and more blurred. In fact, according to statistics from the Global Wellness Institute, the health and wellness market is currently worth a whopping $3.7 trillion. The next sector to have a wellness makeover? Oral care. Yep, in a world where the appearance of a healthy lifestyle is just as coveted as a designer bag, looking after our teeth need no longer be merely mundane. Thanks to a burst of new technology, formulae and brands, there's never been more choice when it comes to shopping for anything teeth-related.

“Millennials value their health and good looks much more than previous generations. Being fit and looking great are a new currency and this is being reflected within oral-care developments,” Dr Mark Hughes, founder of Harley Street Dental Studio, explains. With 31 per cent of UK adults having ongoing tooth decay, according to Arm & Hammer, we’re increasingly investing more in our at-home routines as a means of prevention. Electric toothbrushes are proving more popular than ever, with a 2017 Mintel report stating that sales are up five per cent. “Take-up of electric toothbrushes is being driven by a growing desire to keep teeth healthy and strong in the most convenient way as possible. There is growing perception that electric brushing is better than manual brushing in the long term and, thanks to new technology, people can brush even more effectively,” Hera Crossan, personal care analyst at Mintel, explains.

A great example of this comes from Foreo. The brand behind the vibrating face cleansing brush has used the same silicone technology to create an electric toothbrush. Using 11,000 pulsations per minute, it promises to remove 30 per cent more plaque than a normal toothbrush. I’ve tested it for the past month and am impressed by how gentle, yet effective, it is. The fact that it only needs charging once a year (!) and there are no changeable brush heads to worry about is a bonus. It’s not cheap (£129), but if it lives up to its claim as the “last toothbrush you’ll ever buy”, perhaps it's worth it.


The link between selfie culture and our increased interest in perfecting our smiles can’t be overlooked. “I blame Instagram for most things these days and, certainly, selfie-perfect teeth are a digital prerequisite,” Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of Beauty Mart, the curated online e-tailer, says. Subsequently, at-home whitening is on the rise, with Solowij telling us that they’ve seen the Billion Dollar Smile Peroxide LED Light Kit fly off their virtual shelves since they started stocking it last year.


However, much like in the beauty space, where radiant skin is reigning supreme over the heavily contoured look (just call it the Glossier effect), when it comes to our teeth a more low-key look is also proving most popular. Just look at Meghan Markle, arguably the most famous woman in the world right now, whose “natural-looking” smile (by A-list standards, of course) is apparently the most requested look of the moment. Dazzling veneers are being replaced by more subtle solutions, such as Invisalign, with sales of this almost invisible orthodontic treatment growing 31 per cent in 2017. "People are moving away from the Hollywood style of teeth and fake-looking veneers. Instead they’re opting for easy and flexible options that offer a natural-looking finish like Invisalign. As well as straightening the teeth, this can widen the smile and add support to the lips,” cosmetic dentist Dr Rhona Eskander says.

Natural stain removing alternatives are gaining traction, too, as brands try to take a chunk out of the ever-growing organic personal-care market. Charcoal is proving to be the star ingredient, with Pinterest naming it as one of their top-trending search terms last year. Used in beauty routines since the time of the ancient Egyptians, brands are now harnessing its stain-removing abilities and including it in toothpastes and powders. I’ve tried the Tooth Whitening Polish from Sister & Co ,which is pricey (£27), but I have to say I was pretty impressed. My teeth felt smoother and looked brighter, with the stains from my coffee habit looking a little lighter.  


Beyond this, as we become more aware of our throwaway culture and terrifying plastic usage, disposable toothbrushes have joined the ever-growing list of items that we can no longer justify buying. Instead, sustainable alternatives crafted from biodegradable bamboo are proving popular and, thanks to the likes of The Humble Co, PearlBar and GeoOrganics, they’re becoming accessible, too. Lush, a loud voice in the anti-plastic movement and pioneers of the “naked packaging” concept, has taken it a step further and now sells solid toothpaste and mouthwash tabs that avoid the use of plastic whatsoever.


Much like other now-elevated bathroom essentials (luxury botanical deodorant or chic floor cleaner, anyone?), toothcare brands are borrowing marketing and design ideas from the world of beauty as they capitalise on the idea of turning the everyday into the luxurious. As Solowij states: “Oral beauty has replaced oral care.” For instance, Apa Beauty, the brainchild of renowned cosmetic dentist Dr Michael Apa, has coined the term “oral cosmetics” – an at-home concept that combines skincare and oral care. Alongside toothbrushes and toothpaste, the brand sells a rejuvenating gel for pinker gums and a blue-toned lip gloss to make teeth appear whiter. With products sold in sleek white and gold packaging and with price tags of upwards of £20, it’s a lesson in clever and no doubt profitable marketing.



In the age of the bathroom #shelfie (there are currently over a million posts with the hashtag on the platform), for brands, a social-media friendly aesthetic is an important commodity and you only need to take a quick scroll to see that packaging porn sells well. For example, there’s Selahatin with its monochrome Byredo-inspired tubes, Aesop and its much-coveted medicine bottles and Marvis with its rainbow-hued retro designs. A lovely addition to your bathroom sink, if you’re willing to spend upwards of £7 (!!) on a tube of toothpaste.


So, are we entering the age of the spotless smile? Will we be spending more time and money on our mouths than our monthly food shop? Are teeth the new Tom Ford handbag? If the wellness industry has anything to do with it, then, quite possibly, yes. But, as with everything in our image-focused age, it’s all about balance. While spending £30 on a gel to make your gums pink might feel like marketing gone mad, there’s nothing wrong with looking after your smile – however you want to do it.


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