Is Cosmetic Dentistry an Industry or an Art?

Everyone Loses if Health and Aesthetics Are at Odds

Last week’s editorial, Is Cosmetic Dentistry Dying?, stirred several comments, both insightful and controversial, about the future of cosmetic dentistry. (I’ve added highlighting.)

Are dentists losing control of cosmetics?

“I’m not at all surprised that cosmetic dentistry is on the decline. In fact, I’ve been saying this for at least 3-4 years. The manner in which dentistry embraced the need for everyone to have white, straight teeth as a life-changing necessity reminded me of the economic bubbles which have lead to catastrophic financial decline. Tooth whitening booths staffed by non-professionals seem to be legal and now abound in shopping malls, advertising their services with statements like ‘Why pay dentists hundreds of dollars when…’ Will prep-free veneers be the next service available over-the-counter?”

Larry Barsh, DMD

Is it our own fault for being short-sighted?

“The trend is really not that surprising. Part of the problem is that dentists began to advertise and market towards cosmetic procedures and treated these issues prior to getting the patient healthy. This of course goes back to the opposing views between being in health care (as dentistry should be viewed by both patients and providers) versus being a business in which the bottom line is profit. Since cosmetic treatments are generally not covered by insurance, and are usually financially rewarding, many of our colleagues lost sight of our basic requirement (to get the mouth healthy) and performed treatment modalities the patient desired. Some of these treatments have failed because of the short sightedness of the doctor and now add in the financial disarray of the country and the declining trend is obvious. People are now trying to get by with the minimum.

Lawrence Bartos

So what does it mean?

I see at least three themes here: (1) the economics of dentistry; (2) dentistry’s obligation to health care; and (3) consumer demand. The trade-offs of the first two can be argued to infinity. But these arguments all get thrown to the wayside in light of “Consumer Demand.”

Last week’s graph is characteristic of consumer demand.

Cosmetic dentistry web trends

We have to remember that Cosmetic Dentistry has become an industry. Just count up the number of “Cosmetic Gurus” on the speaking circuit, the Cosmetic Institutes, and the number of Cosmetic Materials and Equipment suppliers. All of these groups have a major economic investment in beating the drum and growing the industry.

Even more important are the tens of thousands of dentists who have invested their hard-earned time and money in this industry. Cosmetics allow dentists to express themselves as artists. “Art” is an emotion. And I believe that it is this artistic emotion that has driven the Cosmetic Dental Industry to this point.

The real question, which we will explore next week, is centered on the “Demand” side of the equation. Is the market for cosmetic dentistry dying in face of the lack of consumer demand?

Post your comments

Tooth Whitening Wars in North Carolina: Is Your State Next?

The FTC and Teeth Whitening Wars in North CarolinaIn North Carolina, tooth-whitening services can be administered by non-dentists in hair salons, retail stores, and at kiosks in shopping malls.

And the FTC in North Carolina believes a dentist doesn’t need to be present.

In 2010 the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners attempted to reign in the non-dentists by sending out 42 letters notifying tooth-whitening providers that they were illegally practicing dentistry and ordered them to stop.

As reported by, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) then initiated an action against the North Carolina dental board, alleging that the board violated federal law in their attempts to block non-dentists from providing tooth-whitening services.

In February 2011, the dental board retaliated by filing a lawsuit against the FTC, accusing the commission of violating the U.S. Constitution in its attempts to keep the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners from regulating tooth-whitening services being offered by non-dentists.

A FTC judge fired back by denying the dental board’s motion to dismiss the FTC’s complaint and unanimously rejected the argument that the state action doctrine exempts it from antitrust scrutiny under the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The FTC judge further ruled that the North Carolina State Dental board’s efforts to block non-dentists from dispensing whitening services constitutes an illegal anti-competitive conspiracy.

In an email to, Board attorney Noel Allen writes, “If a clear state statute, a century of court precedents, and the United States Constitution no longer allow the state of North Carolina, acting through its General Assembly, to define the practice of dentistry to protect our citizens from the illegal and unsafe practice of dentistry, then it should be the Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court that pronounces the death of that state right. The decision should not come from the FTC acting on its own initiative, without even so much as internal rule to support it.”

The North Carolina State Dental Board argues that they never tried to stifle competition and were only trying to protect the public from non-licensed dental treatments.

The battle between dentists and teeth-whitening providers is being fought in other states as well. Recently the Connecticut State Dental Commission ruled that tooth whitening is dentistry and can no longer be performed without a dentist present, while another judge ruled against the New Jersey Dental Association in their legal battle against a chain of tanning salons offering tooth-whitening services.

What are your thoughts? Do you think tooth-whitening services require a dental license?

For the entire story by see: FTC Judge Rules That NC Dental Board Acted Illegally

Better Teeth Make You Look Smarter

Your teeth look fantastic! You must be rich, happy and intelligent

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) recently conducted a study on how people’s teeth affect how they are perceived. Respondents saw a random sampling of “before” and “after” photos of cosmetic dentistry patients, and were asked to rate each person along several dimensions (attractiveness, intelligence, happiness, success, and other positive attributes).

The pictures of those who had had cosmetic dental work were rated higher along all dimensions. That means that people with better teeth were perceived as smarter, more attractive, happier, more successful, kinder and wealthier than those with crooked or dingy smiles.

Read more

Is It Time Write Off Cosmetic Dentistry as a Market?

Cosmetic Dentistry Is a Shrinking Market These Days

Last week’s editorial, Is Cosmetic Dentistry an Industry or an Art?, continued to question the future of cosmetic dentistry. Once again, I got a lot of interesting comments. (Highlights are mine.)

“Has the dental industry truly understood consumers’ need sets, or is it the Hollywood, glamour that is being sold to the wealthy minority? How many consumers can afford the average $5,000 mouth, let alone $10K, $20K, or even $30K? Is it vanity that the industry is selling?”

Herb Young

“I disagree with Dr. Young when he says that consumers cannot afford to put 10-30K into their mouths. These same consumers have the latest phones with service at $100 plus per month, they travel, they have the latest car models and multiple Big Screen TVs. They have the money and the discretion to spend it. Dentistry is undersold!!”

Dr. Harry A. Long

My job is to look at the stats and calculate (some would say pontificate) on the future viability of various aspects of the dental industry. There is no doubt that consumer interest is waning, and it is a long-term trend.

cosmetic dentistry web trends

The first question is why? Has cosmetic dentistry exhausted the market of the wealthy and vain? The vast majority of the world wakes up every morning, brushes their teeth, looks briefly in the mirror and moves on. What do they see? Their teeth, the same ones they see every morning. They are used to seeing them as they are: stained, crooked, chipped.

The reality is that the vast majority of the world does not think that much about their teeth. Unless of course they are in pain or are looking for a mate. And even that isn’t always true. (What else could be the excuse for Prince Charles’ mouth?)

Second question: is there still a viable market for cosmetic procedures?

With a little research, we were able to find the top ten cosmetic dental search terms in Google and the number of searches. You might want to quibble about “Veneers” as being really about wood or Formica, but when you search the term, the results are overwhelmingly dental.

cosmetic dentistry web trends

What this data tells us is that over 585,000 people are searching for information each month about some aspect of cosmetic dentistry. Is it time to write off cosmetic dentistry as a market? Is there still a viable market? Absolutely! At least on the Internet.

Should you be spending more money on cosmetic training, equipment and marketing? That will be next week’s editorial.

Post your comments

Best Tooth Whitening Methods Revealed by Dentists

Best teeth whitening methodsWhen it comes to teeth whitening, dentists say custom-fit bleaching trays for at-home whitening are the most effective option. Three-quarters of the dentists in this survey said it works great.

Dentists feel that in-office gel bleaching and laser teeth whitening work okay, but they are not impressed with store-bought teeth whiteners.

“The at-home custom-fit tray whitening method works best,” said one dentist. “Over the course of several days, the patient can control the degree of tooth whitening to her own preferences — something that cannot be said for the other methods. And once the custom trays are made, the patient can easily and efficiently perform the later ‘touch-ups’ that inevitably will be needed with the passage of time.”

“Who trusts a pimply faced kid at the mall to whiten their teeth?” asked a California dentist.

“Any monkey can whiten teeth,” said a Florida dentist. “The art is whitening to the fullest extent possible, which varies from person to person; and then to do it predictably without creating sensitivity. Sensitivity can be a real show stopper.”

Read more: Best Teeth Whitening Methods According to Dentists


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