Like most of us, you probably spent time on your skincare regime this morning, and on washing, drying and styling your hair. But how much thought did you put into your dental care routine? Most of us think we’re doing pretty well if we manage to brush twice a day for two minutes, let alone floss. But your mouth, teeth and gums can betray your age just as much as a wrinkled forehead or greying roots.
“Our teeth and jaw acts as a scaffold for our lower face,” says Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of the London Smiling Dental Group. “But with age, teeth become thinner, darker and shorter, and the collagen that holds them in place starts to unravel. Gums can recede if they’re not properly cared for, and your face drops, exposing more of your lower teeth, making you look literally – and figuratively – long in the tooth.”
It might sound terrifying but don’t panic, because ‘oral beauty’, as dental hygiene has been rebranded, is very much having a moment with advances in technology and sustainability driving product development. But why now?
“I think the pandemic has, for various reasons, forced people to focus on their teeth and their mouth,” says Okoye. “For a start we’ve been wearing masks, and covering our mouths, so we really see the difference when we take the mask off. But also because over the last year, so much of our communication with family, friends and work has been over video, we’ve become focused on things like discolouration and overcrowding of teeth.”
As a result, Okoye says she’s seen a rise in the number of people seeking whitening treatments or orthodontic work to straighten teeth. But it’s not just about aesthetics.
“Research has shown that a high proportion of people who were most badly affected by Covid had periodontal disease. The theory is that if your immune system is trying to fight the chronic infection and chronic inflammation that is gum disease, that will have an impact on how it is able to react to other threats,” says Okoye. She points out that for a long time we have known that gum disease was associated with heart disease and diabetes, but, she says “we think of those things as happening to other people, whereas everyone is at risk of Covid, and you don’t want to increase your chances of getting it badly.”
Part of the problem is that for a long time, oral care fell in the gap between beauty and health. But Hannah Moore, founder of the LA Pacific range of toothpastes, believes that the conflation of health, beauty and wellness, and an ever-increasing interest in all aspects of wellbeing is working in dentistry’s favour.
“Over the years we have seen the rise of holistic approaches to life, diet and skincare,” she says. “People are starting to make the same connections to issues with their oral care.”
Marie Drago is the founder of Gallinée, a beauty company that focuses on the skin’s microbiome. The brand recently made its first foray into dental products and Drago agrees that “the rise of wellness and the shifting definition of what constitutes a beauty product” has contributed to growth in this sector.
She also believes that it’s smaller brands, like hers, that are contributing to the changes we’re seeing.
“For years oral care was a big player game, and there was very little product innovation. You now see new niche brands launching oral care ranges, and forcing the big players to change and innovate. It happened in skincare a few years ago, and it seems it’s now happening in oral care,” she says.
A quick glance at the US shows she’s not wrong. While yet to launch over here, Colgate recently created an entirely new brand, Co. with the sort of slick and shiny packaging that Generation Z loves to showcase on TikTok, as well as quirky new products, such as a foaming mouthwash, whitening pens and more.
But the likes of Oral-B and Colgate are going to have to do more than just up their packaging game if they want younger people to invest. One of the other aspects driving innovation in this sector is the demand for sustainability.
“One and a half billion plastic tubes of toothpaste go into landfill or the ocean every single year,” says Dr Rhona Eskander, a dentist and one of the founders of Parla toothpaste tablets. “Those tubes will take somewhere between 500 and 700 years to degrade and, in the meantime, that plastic is having an impact on marine life, and entering the food chain.” Along with fellow dentists, she created dehydrated toothpaste tablets that contain the fluoride and other ingredients important for healthy teeth, but which come packaged in a glass jar.
And it’s far from the only dental brand putting the environment at the forefront. From dental floss made with recycled water bottles and vegan wax to mouthwash tablets and bamboo toothbrushes, as with the beauty industry, oral care is having something of a green makeover.
Ultimately, for the consumer, it can all only be a good thing. Whether your motivation for looking after your mouth is health, or vanity (or a bit of both), the oral beauty boom means more choice, and more ways to do exactly that.