How far would you go for the perfect smile?

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Hanna Ibraheem
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From invisible braces and sustainable toothpaste to shellac for teeth and DIY dentistry, we investigate the rise of oral beauty.

Pearly whites. Gnashers. Whatever you want to call them, caring for our teeth is one of the most important parts of our daily routine and our entry level to the bathroom when we’re babies. Teeth are big business – the global dental market is worth a staggering £30 billion and, on average, the UK is spending more on cosmetic dentistry than on skin treatments. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing a transition from straightforward oral care to a focus on oral beauty.

But why the sudden fascination? Studies show 40% of people believe image-based social media has made them more self-conscious about their teeth, and Dr Rhona Eskander, cosmetic dentist at Chelsea Dental Clinic in London, agrees. “The selfie generation has led to people obsessing about their smiles on camera,” she says. “Thinking has gone from ‘How do I keep my teeth clean?’ to ‘How can I change them?’”

Dental patients are beginning to see themselves as consumers

Whereas once hygienists were the first port of call, these days people are prioritising beauty treatments as the number one way to improve their smile. The Oral Health Foundation (OHF) found that treatments like implants, veneers, crowns and dentures were the topic of most enquiries to its dental helpline over the past year.

As a result, the way we view our relationship with the dentist is changing. “Rather than seeing ourselves as patients, we are increasingly more likely to identify as consumers,” says Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the OHF. Online marketplace Wowcher has reported a 32% increase in monthly sales of teeth-related treatments, and with an influx of alluring oral products hitting the market, that number is only set to grow…

Shellac smile

With more of us in pursuit of a brighter smile, many are looking into alternatives to traditional teeth whitening. Bonding, which has been called ‘shellac for teeth’, is at the forefront of these treatments. “It involves adding composite resin to the edges of the tooth or all over the tooth surface to give an illusion of straighter, bigger and shinier teeth,” explains Dr Eskander. “I get about 20 new email enquiries per day about it.”

The longevity of bonding is dependent on your eating and drinking habits – you will need to be wary of the usual culprits like red wine and black coffee. And it’s pricey – costs start from around £200 per tooth. Dr Eskander adds that most customers want to avoid drilling their teeth down, making bonding the perfect option for a “natural Hollywood smile”.

Brushing your gums can prevent gum disease, the biggest cause of tooth loss

App happy

Even though half of Brits don’t like their smile, more than a third of us are afraid of the dentist. But what if you were in control of your dental destiny?

Apps like Straight Teeth Direct allow users to upload selfies for a dentist to analyse. If they think you need treatment, they’ll send a SmileBox, £42, with instructions on how to take teeth moulds. These are used to create clear aligners, and new sets are sent every few weeks. The entire process costs £1,350 and promises straighter teeth in five to nine months.

“By removing the overheads of a clinic whilst harnessing mobile technology, we can push down cost but still connect customers to world-class orthodontists,” says co-founder Dr Aalok Y Shukla.

The root of it all

Hands up, who brushes their gums every day? Gum disease is one of the most widespread conditions in the UK and, if left untreated, can result in tooth loss. While there is no actual cure for gum disease, a groundbreaking study by the OHF has found a technique that repairs and regenerates bone and gum tissue. Until it is rolled out to human trials, it is vital we catch gum disease early. Dr Carter says it’s important to look out for blood on your toothbrush or in the toothpaste you spit out after cleaning your teeth. Opt for the Foreo Issa electric toothbrush, £149. Its silicone bristles gently massage gums while providing a thorough clean.


Natural beauty

Good news: your smile can be enhanced sustainably, too. Which is ideal, because Mintel has found that natural oral care is more sought after right now than bespoke whitening products. From bamboo toothbrushes to coconut oil toothpaste, the shops are filling up with choices. The top of our list? Tooth oil. Ringana Tooth Oil, £11.34, is inspired by the ancient practice of oil drawing. When swilled around the mouth, it pulls through the gaps in your teeth and binds to bacteria in the oral cavity, replacing the need for toothpaste. Round off your routine with Georganics’ compostable silk floss, £4.90, and you’re good to go.


Pearly whites

Almost 70% of Brits believe white teeth equals healthy teeth, so it makes sense that whitening is the UK’s most popular non-surgical procedure. However, the British Dental Association urges people to be cautious when buying products over the counter. Daniel Mace, dental prosthetics specialist at The Implant Centre Sussex, stresses that whitening products should contain “ideally no more than 6% hydrogen peroxide”. There are also new stain removal treatments cropping up. Guided Biofilm Therapy uses airflow technology to remove the bacteria that leads to decay, with fees starting at £90. The best bit? It cuts cleaning time in the chair from 20 minutes for cleaning to a mere seven minutes, giving you enough time on your lunch break to swing by Leon, too.

New sustainable products include charcoal toothpaste

Brace yourself

The rise of adult braces has been rapid. Invisalign treated more than five million patients in the past three years with clear, removable aligners that push teeth into position over nine to 12 months. If that’s too long for you, more and more dentists offer alternatives like Cfast. A clear brace system, it focuses on the “social six” – the front six teeth thought to most influence a person’s smile – and you’ll see results in eight weeks. Prices depend on whether you’re doing one or two jaws. Dr Mark Hughes, dental director at Define Clinic in Buckinghamshire, says, “Aligner therapy has improved significantly. Invisalign treatments take half the time they used to.” And the death of ‘train tracks’ is a bonus…

Main image: Getty