What have you been reflecting on during lockdown? Your career? Your weight? Your parenting? What about your teeth and dental habits? Although most dental offices are closed for all but essential treatment, it seems that people still want to do what they can to improve their smiles from home. This has led to a rise in demand for teeth whitening kits, toothbrush sanitisers, and even at-home clear aligners to straighten teeth.
We've spoken to some of the leading brands in these industries to find out how the lockdown has affected them and whether it's going to have a lasting effect on attitudes towards dentistry.
Teeth whitening at home
Home teeth whitening kits are nothing new, but over the past couple of months, there has been a surge in interest in these products. Perhaps it's people feeling the pressure to keep up appearances over Zoom, or perhaps the closure of dental offices is driving regular teeth-whiteners to look for at-home solutions instead.
Snow Teeth Whitening is one of the companies which has experienced a huge increase in sales during this time. Rich, who works for Snow's affiliate team, believes that video calls do have a big part to play in this. With hair and nail salons closed, teeth whitening is one of the few things people can still do to maintain their image as they appear on HD screens in front of colleagues and friends. He also notes that some of the increase has probably come from people who would usually pick up their Snow kits in brick-and-mortar stores.
Rich explains the sales trend Snow has experienced this year. “When the coronavirus really started to hit hard, in mid-January to early February, we saw a slump in sales and traffic across the board. Then, around the time when the lockdowns kicked in, that's when the numbers really started to spike.
“It's been incredible really. Every week since then we've been breaking sales records, to the point that we had trouble getting materials to produce more of the kits.”
We can see this peak mirrored in searches for ‘home teeth whitening' over the past year, according to Google Trends:
Snow's sales have started to level off a little as things have been gradually opening back up in the US, but they are still well ahead of projections for this time of year.
Data from AmazeOwl, a tool which analyses Amazon searches and sales, has revealed that Amazon.com searches for whitening kits increased by 450% in just one month, from February to March.
And it's not just Americans who have been turning to home whitening solutions while in lockdown.
There has been a similar increase in sales of French teeth whitening kit Smile Avenue, which retails in the UK and France. Gauthier, a representative of Smile Avenue, believes it might just be because people are spending more time browsing online.
“It was a bit of a surprise for us to see an increase in sales,” says Gauthier. “Although people have more time to browse around, we thought they would be scared of spending because of loss of income or uncertainty about their businesses. But actually our UK sales in April were more than double what they usually are.”
At Dentaly.org we have seen a huge increase in interest in teeth whitening kits in the UK in the space of just two months:
Smile Avenue's whitening kit is available on Amazon in the UK and France. They did experience a small setback when Amazon sorting centres suspended delivery of all but essential goods in France, but this lasted for less than two weeks.
Refills for their kits are also selling well, so much so that they were sold out for a while. But despite the boost in sales they have experienced during the lockdown, Gauthier is keen for the COVID restrictions to be over soon.
Home braces solutions
Something that's slightly less familiar is the idea of straightening your teeth at home. Clear aligners like Invisalign have been around for a while, but more recently companies like Candid in the US and Straight My Teeth in the UK have introduced a revolutionary way to get straighter teeth without ever having to leave your home. And that's pretty handy at a time like this.
Cathrin Bowtell, Candid's Chief Revenue Officer, has shared her thoughts on how lockdown has affected people's behavior.
“This is a unique time during which people are making an effort at self-care even though they can’t get out. Oral care is one area of the general wellbeing and beauty market which has seen increased interest, and this extends to other self-improvement services like learning new languages or musical instruments.”
With Candid's Studios closed for now, all attention is focused on their at-home model. “Our telemedicine model ensures everyone can access high-quality oral health care. A time like this accentuates the value of this service being available from the customer’s home, and highlights the importance of multi-channel business models,” says Cathrin.
“We’re seeing really positive business results. People are searching for products like clear aligners and we’re able to meet that demand. The fact that sales are staying strong during this difficult economic time highlights the importance of Candid’s offering and the strength of our brand.”
“Candid’s model is built on clinical excellence and quality, both of which we’ve successfully delivered remotely since launching. Checking in on the patient's treatment every 10 days is now a standard part of Candid’s product, allowing our orthodontists to keep close tabs on patients and gather data on the care they are providing.”
And why are so many people choosing to begin their aligner treatment now? While there may be some element of transitioning from in-office services, Cathrin thinks that this time stuck at home has given people a good opportunity to get used to wearing clear aligners from the comfort of their own homes, without having to worry about what their colleagues might think. Plus, with whitening treatment included in their package, their customers can emerge from lockdown with a brighter smile as well.
It's a similar situation for Straight My Teeth, another brand of clear aligner available in Europe and the US (as AlignerCo). Marketing Director Ryan Smith says he has definitely seen an increase in traffic visiting their websites recently.
“Since most people are working from home, they have more time to themselves now,” says Ryan. “Due to the importance of social distancing, customers feel more comfortable doing at-home treatment for teeth straightening. We strongly believe that, from both a safety and a cost point of view, the preference for teeth straightening from home will remain.”
While many people might be taking advantage of this time to straighten their teeth without anyone else knowing about it, it's worth noting that this type of treatment is really only suitable for mild to moderate teeth straightening. Anyone with more severely misaligned teeth will have to wait until dentists re-open.
Taking dentistry into our own hands
Unfortunately, not everyone has been able to use this time of confinement to improve their teeth aesthetically. Many who need basic dental care are struggling to access it, leading some to resort to DIY dentistry in order to ease their pain.
“Having been suffering from severe dental pain for some days, and in the absence of an actual dentist due to lockdown, I’ve been left to using Dr Google,” said one person who got in touch to thank us for our “helpful, well-written” article about dental abscesses, adding that it brought her some comfort to have the information clearly laid out.
She wasn't the only one searching for this information; traffic to this page has doubled over the past three months:
Another contacted us anxious about what to do if her toothache got worse. “What happens if my pain is so bad that I need an extraction? Where do I go? Where can we get help?”
Data from AmazeOwl showed a 200% increase in Amazon.com searches for DIY dental filling repair kits from February to March, with similar trends observed in the UK; another sign that people have been unable to access the basic care they need from dentists (or are preparing themselves for the worst).
Since the end of March, dental practices in the UK have been able to offer extremely limited treatment, if any at all. The government's plans to open urgent dental care centres around the country have been falling far behind demand, leaving members of the public worrying about what to do when they experience tooth pain or a dental injury.
One of the big problems facing dentists is the lack of PPE. Many dental treatments involve aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) which send a cloud of fine mist into the air from the patient's mouth; an easy way to spread viruses to staff and other patients. While coronavirus is still considered a risk, we can expect to see continued restrictions on things like fillings and routine teeth cleanings.
Teledentistry to the rescue
With the future of in-office consultations up in the air, many dental practices are introducing new ways to hold patient consultations remotely. Brant Herman, Founder & CEO of MouthWatch, says there has been a sharp uptick in people signing up for TeleDent, a teledentistry platform which lets practices operate virtually.
During the initial weeks of office closures they had 40-50 new practices signing up each day, says Brant. This has also been helped by the fact that more insurance providers are offering greater reimbursement for teledentistry consults.
“The restrictions on dental services mandated in response to COVID-19 opened the eyes of many dentists and practices to the opportunities which teledentistry creates,” explains Brant. “While some needed a short-term solution that allowed them to securely message or video chat with their patients, many practices were looking for a long-term solution that would help them respond to patients more effectively, shift certain types of appointments to virtual consultations and put teledentistry workflows in place to help keep their patients and team members safe while also adding new efficiencies and opportunities into their practice. TeleDent has been retained by many practices to help them bring these capabilities into their workflow in an easy and affordable way.”
So, even once restrictions are lifted, it seems that this period of confinement will leave a lasting mark on the way we interact with dentists.
The winners and losers on Amazon
While some people have responded to empty shelves by making their own toothpaste and mouthwash at home, others have flocked online to buy their regular supplies – and perhaps one or two COVID-driven purchases.
Amazon data scientist Oleg Zaidiner, CEO of AmazeOwl, has highlighted several interesting statistics to us. For instance, searches for antibacterial mouthwash doubled from February to March, despite companies like Listerine making it quite clear that their products aren't tested on coronavirus strains.
Manufacturers of ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizers are doing very well, with interest in their products up 400% during the outbreak. It's bad news for travel toothbrushes on the other hand, with searches down 450%. It's not too hard to guess why.
The future of home dental treatments
We're all hoping dentists will soon be able to reopen safely to treat people who urgently need dental care. But will we see any lasting change in people's purchasing habits as restrictions ease and people are able to slowly return to “normal”?
If video calling really is driving the desire to have whiter teeth, then it's certainly good news for teeth whitening companies. The lockdown seems to have jump-started the realisation that many jobs can be done remotely, if needed. And with predictions that VR will soon be enhancing the meeting experience even further, there might be even more pressure to look your best.
What about teeth straightening? Will we all be heading straight back to dentist's offices for traditional braces as soon as they re-open? Or are disruptors like Candid and Straight My Teeth starting to show people that the old way is not the only way? Even when circumstances allow for regular dental visits again, there's definite appeal in a product that gives you a more affordable and convenient way to improve the aesthetics of your smile while still getting complete professional supervision.
“There is clearly a strong future for telemedicine,” concludes Cathrin Bowtell. “It is important to realize that Candid is not cutting out the oversight and care that doctors give, but rather providing patients with remote access to top-tier clinicians so that people can skip the inconvenience of making in-office visits. The need for this service has been accentuated and validated during the pandemic and I think it will continue to be something people value in the future.”