Shopping for beauty products, seeing a dermatologist and getting a facial are often fun and luxurious experiences, even if you’re not a skincare aficionado. The same, however, cannot be said of oral care.
When was the last time you enjoyed getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist or buying a mouthwash? They’re often routine and unpleasant tasks with none of the frills and pampering that are key elements of the beauty industry.
According to Euromonitor International, a market research firm, the global market of the oral care industry was about US$48 billion in 2020, which pales in comparison to the US$140 billion of the skincare market.
In recent years, however, the Colgates of the world, which are still the unassailable leaders, have started to get some competition from brands that aim to turn oral care from an afterthought into a full-fledged and Instagram-worthy endeavour.
Particularly in the United States, where, thanks to celebrity culture, straight white teeth are coveted, brands such as Moon Oral Care have been targeting millennials and Gen Z through collaborations with the likes of Kendall Jenner.
The model and member of the Kardashian clan is an ambassador for the brand and has recently partnered with them for a teeth whitening pen that comes in a vanilla mint flavour. The company’s latest spokesperson is National Football League player Odell Beckham Jnr, who stars with Jenner in the brand’s latest campaign and, according to its website, was hired “to elevate the oral beauty game”.
While Moon has taken a casual and fun approach to oral care to make it cool and relevant to young consumers, Swiss company vVardis has given it a luxury spin.
The brand, which in late 2021 made its Asian debut at Joyce Beauty in Hong Kong, sells products such as the Aletsch Instant Healthy Whitening Gel and the Edelweiss Whitening Toothpaste Soft Mint, which are priced in the high-end range and come in containers that are a far cry from the ho-hum packaging of your average toothpaste.
“If you look at the formulation of all the existing toothpastes, it hasn’t really changed since the 1940s – they work like soap for cleaning and a bit of surface protection through fluoride,” says Dr Haleh Abivardi, co-founder of the brand.
“When we used to have only soap for the face, nobody thought of doing more than only washing the face. The same is with oral care. As long as you have only cleaning materials you have no options to do more.”
Haleh and sister Golnar Abivardi, also a dentist, founded vVardis in 2019 after providing professional dentists with their patented technology and products for more than a decade.
“Our idea was to bring this revolutionary technology to your home. That’s why we integrated the base of it into all our vVardis products and also included a healthy whitening formulation,” says Golnar.
Healthy is the key word, because many ingredients found in at-home whitening strips and gels can damage gums and teeth, and overuse of these chemicals can lead to tooth sensitivity and gum irritation, Golnar explains.
“It is the same as the first creams and serums for the face that came out with innovative formulations, which did much more than what a soap used to do,” adds Haleh. “It was time for a ritual for your smile.”
While at-home rituals have become even more relevant during the coronavirus pandemic, teeth whitening or bleaching is for the most part still the purview of dentists.
The most common practice is home bleaching, whereby you go to a dentist to get a mould that fits your mouth and then use it to apply a gel for about one hour every day for two weeks, and repeat the process at home about twice a year.
Chair-side bleaching provides the same result but is faster, as you undergo the same treatment in one go at a dental clinic. Like home bleaching, it’s not permanent and lasts about six months.
“The results are pretty much the same, but more patients do home bleaching as chair-side bleaching can be tiring as you have to keep your mouth open for about an hour and a half,” says a certified dentist at EC Healthcare, which operates dental clinics throughout Hong Kong.
Those who are willing to commit more money and time to get pearly whites can opt for veneers, which are favoured by Hollywood celebrities.
“Veneers are more permanent because we have to take out the surface of the teeth and then put a porcelain layer on top of it and after you remove the tooth structure you can’t get it back so it’s irreversible,” says the EC Healthcare dentist, who adds that veneers don’t just remove stains permanently but also reshape the teeth and make them look straight and symmetrical.
The EC Healthcare dentist, who prefers to stay anonymous because of strict regulations about the marketing of dental procedures in Hong Kong, is not a fan of at-home gel kits, especially the basic ones you can find at pharmacies, and recommends going to a professional to get stains removed.
“There is a market for luxury tooth care and products, but for treatments, most patients still prefer and should go to a dentist, even for aesthetic reasons. It’s not like when you find a good skincare product and can rely on it,” she says.
As for the key misconceptions about tooth hygiene, she says that many people tend to overbrush.
“Your teeth can get more yellow if you brush them too hard because you brush off the enamel,” she says. “The enamel is the whitest layer that you can see, whereas the inner layer, called dentine, is more yellowish and it shows if you overbrush.”
Regardless of what you opt for – bleaching, luxury products such as the vVardis gel or more extreme measures like veneers – one thing is clear: the dental care segment is one of the few personal care sectors still ripe for disruption, which ultimately offers consumers plenty of options to achieve a beautiful smile.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.