Floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves, lit from within, feature choice knickknacks from bronze figurines to small succulents—personal treasures. Coffee-table books are casually stacked, just so. There’s a modernist light fixture, a midcentury couch, a rustic long wooden table. Down the hallway, guests luxuriate in essential oils rollers, warm towelettes and plush blankets.
Yet, despite its location in New York City’s Nomad Hotel building, this is not a hipster hideaway. It’s not a dreamy new spa or yoga studio. This is Core Smiles—and it’s not your mama’s dentist’s office.
The ambience here—including office therapy puppy, Enzo—is indicative of more than a one-off with style. A greater movement is afoot, a modern rethink of the dental industry, a warmer, more thoughtful alternative to the cold standard and the satirized sadism of Little Shop of Horrors. New adapters, like Core Smiles, are answering a call. After all, according to the American Dental Association, only 30 percent of millennials make annual dental visits. So, making oral care more accessible and appealing is just good business. From sustainable (and cute!) toothbrushes, celebrity toothpastes (yup) and chocolate-flavored dental floss to high-tech innovations and in-office creature comforts, dental care is the new self-care.
Dr. Michael Gulizio, DMD, and Dr. Steven Cordoves, DDS, originally founded their Core Smiles practice together in 2007, but upped their game in 2019 when they unveiled their new offices, having put real thought into the client experience. “A lot of people are generally fearful of the dentist,” says Dr. Gulizio. “Creating an environment that addresses the five senses is important to reduce anxiety.”
Here, patients are led to treatment rooms where flat screens bear their names and a “Comfort Menu” with offerings including headphones, lip balm, Enzo (the puppy!), blanket/pillow and more. “We thought of our favorite hotel amenities, and figured out how to incorporate them into the experience,” says Dr. Cordoves.
This practice is also ushering dentistry into the future via tech. They employ the latest greatest gadgets, scanning patients’ teeth to examine on a screen seconds later, 3D printing items like mouth guards (often delivered same-day) and even testing the microbiome of the mouth to more accurately guide treatment, as an integrative doctor tests the gut.
Core Smiles feels like the sleek older sibling to more entry-level boutique dental chains that are also popping up like Tend (now in Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston) and dntl bar. These new adapters are aiming to do for oral care what JetBlue did for air travel in the aughts and Warby Parker did for glasses in the teens— prize cool factor and accessibility with less hassle. At Tend, first launched in October 2019, to encourage clients to “look forward to” their annual visits, they’ve adopted a hospitality model with app booking, transparent pricing, Zen digs and a promise never to “guilt” about flossing. During cleanings, guests stream Netflix and chill and depart with branded products.
dntl bar refers to itself as “the people’s dentist” and sends its patients home with swag bags complete with BPA-free bamboo toothbrushes and biodegradable floss and donates to Americares for every routine cleaning.
New “oral wellness” company, Twice—cofounded by Lenny Kravitz with brothers Julian and Cody Levine—also has a cause- driven bent. It was inspired by a philanthropic mission to Eleuthera, Bahamas—Kravitz’s hometown—where the founders joined their parents (dental specialists) and the singer at a free pop-up clinic for people without regular access. The impact was profound. “People came in with physical pain in their mouth and emotional pain around how their smile looked,” recalls Cody, cofounder and chief brand officer. “Overnight, we were able to give people a newfound confidence.”
Newly launched, Twice has a holistic ethos. “We’re shifting from a reactive mindset of fixing a problem like a cavity to a proactive health and wellness routine that improves overall well-being,” Cody explains. “We’re owning an emotion that has been absent in the industry.” The social enterprise company is focused on everything from “craveable” toothpaste flavors to a balanced microbiome, integrating “super ingredients” like nanosilver and replacing synthetics with plant-based cleansers.
They’re especially excited to launch their Oral Wellness Immunity Rinse, designed to boost defenses via zinc, baking soda and more. “The future of dental care is looking at how the mouth is the gateway to the gut and first line of defense,” Cody says, referencing, for example, the link between gingivitis and cardiovascular disease (the number one killer in America). “It’s an integration into all other facets of our lifestyle choices.”
The Levines are not the only siblings in the game. In 2015, sisters Chrystle and Cat Cu launched Cocofloss, a disruptive dental floss line. In both her practice and as she traveled the world on philanthropic missions, Chrystle noticed two frustrating and consistent realities: First, most cavities could have been prevented by flossing. Second, nobody flossed! “I couldn’t help but wonder: Why were my patients willing to invest in green juices and yoga pants, but unwilling to spend a minute of their day flossing their teeth?” says Chrystle. “We knew we had to do something totally different to transform consumer behavior. No one thinks of an exfoliating face wash as a chore. It’s a delight, a self-care treat. We wanted to make flossing just as fun.” So, she teamed up with her artsy sister to create a line of floss with personality and sparkle.
Chrystle also likened using traditional gliding floss to “cleaning a dirty dish with a plastic bag” and worried about the environmental toll. So, the sisters designed their toxin-free version with a woven “loofah-like” texture and antibacterial coconut oil. Today, their floss is composed of 85 percent recycled polyester sourced from post- consumer water bottles, set to divert almost 13,000 pounds of plastic in 2022. Their new Cocobrush (designed with soft bristles to protect gums) is also made from recycled ocean-bound plastic. Cocofloss dispensers are refillable, packaging is 100 percent recycled and they’ve pledged $20,000 a year to the Wildlife Conservation Network. “I am definitely observing a shift in oral care’s positioning!” says Chrystle. “Since we launched, we’ve seen a number of new, upmarket oral care brands crop up. People want to use products that resonate and fit into a much broader self-care routine and lifestyle.”
The move toward sustainability is particularly notable. One pioneer of that effort is Christina Ramirez, founder and CEO of Plus Ultra and the creator of the first bamboo toothbrush in the U.S. in 2010. She specifically launched in hopes of mitigating plastic pollution—and, in the decade since, she’s seen many companies— even big ones—begin to follow suit. Today, Plus Ultra’s latest favorite innovation is its biodegradable cornstarch replacement toothbrush heads. Ultimately, she’s thrilled to see the industry evolve and is now focused on creating a spirit of inclusion and tolerance for quirks rather than some unattainable notion of perfection—a perfect white smile. “Oral care was such a boring category with such limited options and over the past decade we’ve seen innovation, fun products, new flavors, influencers and even celebrities join the industry,” she says. “Instead of viewing oral care as a singular category, it has grown into the beauty space and even anti-aging!”
Amra Hajdarevic was also thinking about sustainability when she started her clean oral care line, Terra & Co. in 2017. Pregnant and faced with a dearth of nontoxic whitening toothpastes, she launched—with help from her artsy sister, Azra—a Brilliant Black Activated Charcoal Toothpaste in recycled packaging. Today, they continue to innovate.
“Terra & Co. is inspired by the ancient healing practices of Ayurveda, as well as modern advances in dentistry,” Amra explains, citing a desire for harmony with nature. Their Gentle Green Oil Pulling, like “a mouth rinse supercharged with minerals, probiotics and antioxidants” such as neem oil, hemp oil and matcha, is a new popular creation. As Bosnian refugees, the sisters are about giving back, so they support local organizations like the Los Angeles Downtown Women’s Center, as well as fellow female entrepreneurs.
“The future of oral care is indie,” says Amra. “We see the rise of many independent oral care brands, bringing innovation and culture. It’s about time!”