CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
It was bound to happen. Toothpaste, perhaps the last part of your daily grooming regimen that had not been gussied up, has now been rethought. Chic dental care has arrived.
It wasn’t so long ago that toothpaste, floss and mouthwashes were perfunctory products meant to clean but also to instill a certain amount of fear (ack, cavities! bad breath? lose all your friends!). That was the epiphany Craig Dubitsky, the founder of Hello oral care, experienced a few years ago when standing in his local drugstore in Manhattan.
“Everything was a big swath of blue and a big swath of red, like the cola wars,” said Mr. Dubitsky, who formerly worked at Eos, a company he helped found that makes lip balms and other skin-care products. “And why am I seeing a picture of an extracted tooth on the products? Or a staff wrapped with snakes. Then I started reading the ingredients, and it was things like triclosan and saccharin. The F.D.A. banned triclosan for hand soap, but you could still put it in your mouth. I thought it was insane.”
Mr. Dubitsky set out to rethink the whole category.
He ditched what he called the “emotional scare tactics” and branded his line with the friendliest word he could think of: Hello. Then he hired a formulator to work with him on products like charcoal toothpaste and mouthwashes with aloe vera.
Though Mr. Dubitsky took marketing cues from the beauty world, he knew he had to “marry fun and functionality,” he said. “If your shampoo didn’t work, it’s just a bad hair day. But if your toothpaste doesn’t work? You’re in a lot of trouble.”
He also pointed out how much our culture has changed in recent years. Everyone deserves and expects design across all price points, he said.
Is it just about looks?
Mr. Dubitsky is far from alone. Already there is a wide variety of products — new and old — on the market. Old-school Marvis toothpaste, which was founded in the 1950s and was a pioneer of offbeat flavors like licorice, ginger and jasmine, is experiencing a resurgence and is available at retailers like the millennial friendly Revolve.com.
It has company in Buly 1803, the French apothecary and fragrance line, which has $29 tubes of toothpaste that come in packaging worthy of Gucci and flavors like orange-clove-cinnamon (recently sold out on Net-a-Porter).
Coconut oil features prominently in new formulations like Cocofloss ($8), a coconut oil dental floss sold at Sephora. The beauty brand Lush introduced a toothpaste exuberantly called Boom! Dental Dynamite ($10.95), which is essentially a charcoal, kaolin clay and gunpowder tea tablet that you chew before brushing.
Chic dental care wasn’t an obvious extension of Lenny Kravitz’s brand, but he has a new line called Twice (named for the act of brushing twice a day).
For several years, Mr. Kravitz has been providing free dental care to communities in the Bahamas, where he has a residence, but he came to realize that once-a-year clinics weren’t enough; the communities lacked basic dental hygiene products.
With the brothers Julian and Cody Levine, he dreamed up two toothpastes: one for the morning (a zingy wintergreen and peppermint) and one for the evening (a calming peppermint-vanilla-lavender). A portion of the proceeds ($18.99 for the pair) goes to the Bahamas communities.
“The aesthetic of it was important because people like that upgraded toothpaste experience,” Mr. Kravitz said. “When it sits next to the rest of your products, it looks beautiful and sleek.”
“It’s definitely about dental health, but also you’re giving people confidence,” he said, adding that he saw the effects firsthand in the Bahamas. “That’s your calling card, your smile.”
What ingredients should you be using?
If the high prices elicit more of a grimace than a grin, you may want to study the ingredient listings. Michael Apa, a dentist in Manhattan who has built a name for himself among models, celebrities and Middle Eastern royalty, insists that not all are created equal.
His Dr. Apa line, packaged in minimalist white and gold, is sold by beauty retailers like Violet Grey in Los Angeles. It includes products like Blue Lip Shine (the subtle blue crystals in the $25 gloss are said to make teeth look whiter); $25 Pink Gum Gel with extracts of lemon, cucumber and Irish moss to rejuvenate gums; and $25 fluoride-free toothpaste containing the hydroxyapatite that Dr. Apa believes is superior to fluoride at re-mineralizing teeth.
“Fluoride is meant to strengthen teeth, but it produces more of a calcifying effect,” he said. “Hydroxyapatite actually mineralizes teeth and it permeates better — your teeth have pores, and micro-hydroxyapatite can get in those pores and strengthen them from the inside out. But, it’s super-expensive.”
Steven Butensky, who has a practice in Manhattan, said that a lot of healthy dental care is based less on product than on regular acts of brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist. Still, he said he has seen promising research on hydroxyapatite but wants to see longer-term studies.
And he is not averse to some of the newer ingredients. Coconut oil and aloe vera have anti-inflammatory properties, while charcoal can help remove stains, though it may be abrasive if used daily, he said.
Dr. Butensky is also encouraged that newer brands are bringing excitement to dental care and changing the perception of it as a chore.
Mr. Dubitsky, of Hello, is on board. “Of course oral care is about health products,” he said. “But I want to bring some joy to this daily act. It’s really that simple.”