The Great British cosmetic dentistry boom: What midlifers should try for a better smile

·12 min read
More time on services like Zoom has meant individual's are hyper focused on their appearances - Getty
More time on services like Zoom has meant individual's are hyper focused on their appearances - Getty

Valued at £2.2 billion, the British cosmetic-dentistry industry is thriving. According to the British Beauty Council, one in 10 of us has had a treatment such as veneers, bonding or teeth-whitening in the past 12 months, putting to bed the old myth that Britons don’t look after their teeth. And the market researchers Credence Research predict an eight per cent annual rise in the number of treatments in the UK, compared with a five per cent average increase globally.

Getting your teeth ‘done’ has been popular for a few years, but why the marked rise now? Experts are putting it down, in part, to the national lockdowns last year. The psychologist Dr Martina Paglia observes that post-lockdown, there was a real drive for men and women to invest in themselves – in what is now known as the ‘Zoom boom’. ‘Video calls have meant that we’ve had increased exposure to the facial features we do not like, and we aren’t able to ‘filter’ like we can on social-media sites.

So as we slowly rebuild a normal way of life and return to normal modes of social interaction, we want to present ourselves in a good light after months of not seeing anyone properly.’ A recent study by presentation-design agency Buffalo 7 found that 73 per cent of its 2,066 respondents experienced ‘Zoom anxiety’, preferring a phone call over video interaction. There was also a 180 per cent increase in Google searches for ‘Zoom anxiety’ in the UK between March and November last year.

The award-winning cosmetic dentist Dr Rhona Eskander has never been busier. Although her Chelsea clinic was popular pre-Covid, she says the past six months have seen new levels of demand for appointments (she’s fully booked until March). A year ago, the bulk of her client base was under-35 millennials looking for an Instagram-worthy smile, but in the past six months she has seen a 52 per cent increase in over-40s booking in for teeth ‘tweakments’ compared to the previous 12 months. And that’s not all that has changed: more men are coming in for cosmetic dental work than ever before.

People now want ‘imperfectly perfect teeth’, rather than pearly whites like Tom Cruise’s and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s - Getty Images
People now want ‘imperfectly perfect teeth’, rather than pearly whites like Tom Cruise’s and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s - Getty Images

‘My patients came out of lockdown one and two last year thinking life is too short to live with a smile they don’t like,’ she explains. ‘Hours and hours sat in front of video calls has made people really think about their appearance, and being confronted with their reflection over Zoom – how they move their face, smile and talk, rather than just seeing a static image of themselves in a mirror.’

The main driver for better-looking teeth is the dramatically youthful effect they can have on the face. ‘As we get older our teeth get shorter and more yellow, so by restoring their colour, position and shape, you can easily take 10 years off your appearance,’ says Eskander. ‘Men and women are recognising how anti-ageing cosmetic dentistry can be, with more women opting for teeth tweakments over Botox and fillers.’

So is this a case of 40-somethings catching up with the selfie generation? Dr Patrick Tarrant, who has a practice on Harley Street in London, thinks so. He has also witnessed a marked uptake in cosmetic dental treatments in middle and older age groups, and he found that those who came in for consultations at the beginning of last year were desperate to book in as soon as his clinic reopened following lockdown.

‘I have heard comments like, “I’ve probably got 20 years left in me, I want to look my best,” so I think midlifers are now moving towards the self-awareness seen in the millennial generation. Covid has crystallised people’s perception of their life, both in terms of quantity and quality.’ He is now twice as busy as this time last year, with a male/female ratio of 50:50; it was 65:35 in favour of women a year ago.

Ryan Gosling and the Duchess of Cambridge are modern dental pin-ups for their youthful, full-toothed smiles – with minimal ‘buccal corridors’ - Getty Images
Ryan Gosling and the Duchess of Cambridge are modern dental pin-ups for their youthful, full-toothed smiles – with minimal ‘buccal corridors’ - Getty Images

Part of the appeal is that teeth treatments have changed considerably over the past 10 years. ‘Men and women in their late 40s, 50s and beyond, who have previously been scared of the dentist, are more relaxed about coming in to have cosmetic treatments because they are so much less invasive than they used to be,’ notes the cosmetic dentist Dr Martina Hodgson. There was a time when cosmetic dental work meant that teeth were filed down to pegs to have veneers placed on, in a one-size-fits-all approach, which isn’t the case any more.

Many of these modern professional treatments come with a hefty price tag, but for the middle-aged market it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Hodgson has also witnessed a ‘phenomenal demand’ for dental treatments in the 40-plus market, which her clients are undertaking after the cancelled holidays, weddings and reduced socialising of 2020.

It’s also about appearance: old-style veneers, which are perfectly white and straight, may still be the ideal for many 20-something reality-TV stars, but look obviously ‘done’. Most of Eskander’s clients, she says, want ‘imperfectly perfect’ teeth, rather than big, shiny Hollywood smiles like those of Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones. She likens the trend for getting more natural-looking teeth to the surge in women asking to have their visible face and lip filler dissolved. The tide has turned on obvious-looking ‘work’. ‘I’m seeing more clients who want their old-fashioned composite veneers taken down or off because they look too bulky or fake,’ she says.

Cosmetic dentist Dr Rhona Eskander - Getty Images
Cosmetic dentist Dr Rhona Eskander - Getty Images

Although we know that straighter, whiter teeth can lift the complexion and knock years off, so, too, can wider teeth. This is where buccal corridors – the dark tunnels that show between the corner of your lips and the side of your teeth as you smile – come into question. Visible buccal corridors are immediately ageing, which is why part of what cosmetic dentists can do is widen the smile (through braces or veneers) with the aim of showing at least eight teeth on smiling.

No visible buccal corridors equals a youthful smile. Take Ryan Gosling and the Duchess of Cambridge, for instance, who are modern-day dental pin-ups with their youthfully wide smiles showing around 10 teeth. ‘This is aesthetically pleasing but also anti-ageing,’ adds Eskander, ‘and it provides support to the structure of the lips, which can make us appear younger.’

However, the allure of a good smile on a budget is too tempting for some younger Britons. In October last year, a 33-year-old Northern Irish man died and two of his friends were left critically ill following a trip to Turkey for dental treatment. The men were in the country to undergo a teeth-whitening procedure. There were unconfirmed reports that they had taken medication linked to the treatment before being found unconscious in their rented apartment.

Turkey has a large medical and dental tourism industry, and according to the Istanbul International Health Tourism Association, each year up to 700,000 people visit the country for dental and medical services. Eskander finds the rise in dental treatments abroad ‘alarming’, not only for the ‘conveyor-belt’ approach to smiles abroad, but also from a safety aspect. The Association of Turkish Travel Agencies has said that by 2023 it hopes to attract two million health tourists to the country.

This wasn’t an option considered by 49-year-old sales manager Paul Rayns, whose quest for a natural-looking smile led him to book in with Eskander to undergo £13,000 worth of treatments last year, including Invisalign braces to straighten his teeth and porcelain veneers across nine teeth. Having always pondered the idea of getting his teeth ‘done’, he decided that, as he approached 50, it was time to take some action.

‘The preconception of cosmetic dentistry being just for television presenters and footballers is not the case any more,’ he says. ‘I always wanted to get my teeth straightened so I had braces fitted, and following lockdown I decided to have veneers put on too.

This year, sales manager Paul Rayns got his teeth straightened and whitened, and veneers put on
This year, sales manager Paul Rayns got his teeth straightened and whitened, and veneers put on

‘I didn’t want the old-fashioned horse-like smile, and I’m glad the trend in dentistry now is more about subtle tweakments for the teeth rather than a full set of ice-white veneers,’ he adds. Rayns travelled from his home in the Cotswolds to see Eskander for his 10 appointments in London (they relied on video catch-ups throughout lockdown) and had his veneers fitted in October. ‘Friends and family have noticed that I am definitely smiling more. I look back at pictures and realise that, even in video calls, I never used to smile or show my teeth, whereas now I’ve had my teeth done it has given me a massive confidence boost.’

Rayns had the full works of treatments, a belt-and-braces, three-step process that many experts now adopt for better-looking smiles. The first step is ‘invisible’ Invisalign braces (removable transparent teeth aligners that are worn for 20 hours a day), which straighten the teeth in a far more discreet way than old-school ‘train tracks’. Eskander treats people up to 60 years old for braces. Once the teeth are straightened, their shape and size can be perfected with ultra-thin porcelain veneers or bonding on the edges of the teeth. The icing on the cake is a course of professional whitening. A full treatment including braces and veneers can cost in the region of £12,000, and teeth can take up to a year to perfect.

Does Rayns wish he had done it years ago? ‘Yes and no,’ he admits. ‘I don’t think I was as self-conscious when I was younger. Now, I have a bit more expendable income, and many of my friends in my age group are getting their teeth fixed too. In my parents’ age, men didn’t care as much, but now I think everyone is more self-conscious about their image, and we want to look after ourselves. Especially after the year we’ve just had.’

From a psychological perspective, Dr Paglia agrees that the past year has had a huge impact on our self-esteem. With many more people working from home using video calls, and with fewer ‘physical’ social interactions, ‘Social media became our main outlet to the outside world, and scrolling through social media at any age presents a level of subconscious pressure on our appearance,’ she explains. ‘Being online so much acts as a catalyst in increasing your insecurities, especially if you are not comfortable in how you look in the first place. Improved physical appearance is directly proportional to one’s self-esteem, and that’s more important now than ever before.’

The things to  try if you…

Want to straighten your smile

Invisalign is a popular invisible braces brand - Getty Images
Invisalign is a popular invisible braces brand - Getty Images

Invisalign is the go-to brand for invisible braces, and although treatment length is dependent on your case, it can be anywhere between six and 12 months to completely straighten teeth. Price is dependent on your dentist, but typically starts at £2,500 for a course of treatment.

Have chipped front teeth

A composite-bonding professional treatment costs about £500 per tooth and lasts up to seven years. A resin material is bonded to the enamel to improve the shape and size of your teeth, with no drilling or injections involved.

Veneers can last up to 15 years - Getty Images
Veneers can last up to 15 years - Getty Images

Want a complete revamp in a short space of time

You can opt for a full set of porcelain veneers, but it works best on existing straight-ish teeth. Bespoke, individual porcelain veneers are attached to the front of the teeth. The preparation takes two hours and the treatment itself only 30 minutes for a temporary ‘trial smile’, before you get the real veneers fitted two weeks later. Costing up to £900 per tooth, veneers are attached under local anaesthetic and can last 15 years.

Have discoloration

For a top-of-the-range teeth-whitening treatment, try Boutique, although it can only be prescribed by a dentist. This can either be a custom-made whitening gel you wear every night for three nights, or a one-off treatment in a clinic – costing in the region of £250-£500. Most dentists now prefer to lift the shade of your teeth to a natural whiteness, rather than a bright, icy white. For stains, try EMS Airflow stain removal, which can be administered by a hygienist.

The best at-home products to invest in

Genius X, £130, Oral-B  - Oral-B 
Genius X, £130, Oral-B - Oral-B

Genius X, £130, Oral-B. Dubbed the ‘Tom Ford’ of electric toothbrushes, this smart-looking device is a worthy investment for healthy teeth in the long term. 

Toothpaste Tabs, £6.95 for 62, Pärla (parlatoothpastetabs.com) - Pärla
Toothpaste Tabs, £6.95 for 62, Pärla (parlatoothpastetabs.com) - Pärla

Toothpaste Tabs, £6.95 for 62, Pärla. These peppermint toothpaste tabs come in a reusable glass pot, and will give you naturally whiter teeth. 

Cordless Water Flosser, £55, WaterPik  - Boots.com
Cordless Water Flosser, £55, WaterPik - Boots.com

Cordless Water Flosser, £55, WaterPik. Hygienist-approved, this easy-to-use flosser cleans between teeth and gives the mouth an ultra-clean feeling. 

Has lockdown made you want a better smile? Tell us any tips and tricks you've tried in the comments section below