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Dentists see rise in cosmetic dentistry requests as pandemic restrictions ease

As more people get vaccinated and states ease Covid-19 rules, the social resurgence has put focus on a body part that has been hidden behind masks: teeth.
A woman wears protective eyewear during a teeth whitening session.
A woman wears protective eyewear during a teeth whitening session.vgajic / Getty Images

Cosmetic dentist Kourosh Maddahi noticed a trend among his patients in Beverly Hills, California, beginning around March: Demand for treatments, everything from teeth whitening to full smile-makeovers, was higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Even international virtual consultations restarted as people again consider traveling to the United States for cosmetic dentistry work.

Why now? Maddahi said the main reason his patients have been giving is: “I’m not scared anymore.”

“What you're hearing is, people are vaccinated and willing to do this. They see there are less cases,” he said. “That feeling of being scared and being worried, it sort of has disappeared.”

As more Americans get vaccinated and states ease Covid-19 restrictions, social calendars are filling once again. The resurgence has sent people clamoring for grooming products, including nail polish, dresses and perfume. It has also put special focus on a body part that has been hidden behind masks for more than a year: teeth.

There has been a 47 percent increase in teeth whitening this year and a similar climb in teeth straightening, according to the company SmileDirectClub, which sells clear aligners, as well as teeth whitening kits.

“That's how significant it is,” Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, the company’s chief clinical officer, said. “And that's really because the masks are coming off.”

Sulitzer said along with eyes, smiles are often one of the first features on a human face people notice when assessing one another. After spending months at home, people may be looking for ways to feel better about themselves as they return to their social environments, he said.

“It is vital that people feel better about themselves, feel better about their health,” he said. “When they start to reveal themselves and go back into the social environment, the value of a smile is just incredible.”

Maddahi said following two months of only being able to see emergency patients because of the mandatory shutdown in Los Angeles in March, requests for cosmetic dentistry were down until the fall as coronavirus cases spiked across the country and people made dental appointments only for emergencies such as chipped or broken teeth.

Around September, more people began requesting some cosmetic work, such as “a little bit whiter teeth or straighter teeth,” he said. He said that small uptick may have had something to do with so many people working via video conferences such as Zoom and showing their faces to their coworkers remotely.

Still, his patients were not yet seeking as many treatments such as full smile makeovers that his office was used to providing.

That has changed in recent weeks.

As more Americans have been getting vaccinated, requests for cosmetic dentistry treatments have continued to increase, he said. Some patients have told him they were unhappy about their smiles during the pandemic but were still too afraid to come in, until now.

“So there was a pent-up demand that they were looking at themselves on Zoom, but they were scared to come in and now they're vaccinated,” he said. “They definitely want to do something about it.”

Dr. Ramin Tabib and Dr. Elisa Mello, a married couple and cosmetic dentists at NYC Smile Design, said they “definitely have been seeing a lot more patients” recently, especially since restrictions have begun easing in New York City within the last month or two.

Dr. Ramin Tabib performs a procedure on a patient on June 16, 2021, at NYC Smile Design in New York City.Courtesy Dr. Ramin Tabib

“That's when things really started to shift in New York,” Tabib said. “I feel like people are vaccinated. People are getting tired of wearing masks, they’re going out. So, we're seeing a lot more requests for consults coming in.”

He said he believed their office was currently busier than even before the pandemic when compared to early 2020.

“Since the reopening of New York City, I think we're definitely seeing a much busier practice,” he said. “It's just getting busier and busier.”

Tabib said while he and Mello typically do a lot of reconstructive dentistry work, such as veneers, “all of a sudden, like everyone's interested in whitening.”

“There's so much happening as far as consults that are coming in for whitening,” he said. “I keep hearing it: whitening, whitening, whitening.”

Mello attributed part of the recent increase to people wanting to look and feel their best after having been away from their loved ones and in many cases staying inside for so long.

“You don't know what you're missing until it's covered up. It’s been devastating, that part of it,” she said. “I think it's the value of expressing oneself and enjoying human emotion which is truly expressed, you know, in a smile, or lack thereof.”