CVS, Walgreens Find Toothsome Opportunities In Dental Health: Shoppers Should Be Grinning

A crooked smile can be very attractive to some; just ask CVS Health.

Photocredit: GETTY

The drugstore chain, along with its rival Walgreens, is upping its investment in oral care services, and in particular cosmetic dental care. CVS is piloting six service kiosks by SmileDirectClub, maker of invisible teeth-straightening kits, while Walgreens is opening offices operated by Aspen Dental in two Florida stores.

Bracing For Billion-Dollar Smiles

The overall global market for dental services and products is expected to escalate to $55.6 billion in 2023, from $41.1 billion in 2017. Leading the growth are retail dental essentials, such as specialized toothpastes, whitening agents and other cosmetic products.

Among recent projections:

The global cosmetic dentistry market was valued at $15.3 billion in 2018, and is expected to increase to $18.4 billion by 2025.

The global teeth whitening market is expected to reach $7.4 billion by 2024, from $5.5 billion in 2014.

The size of the global orthodontics supply market is projected to hit $6.6 billion in 2023, from $4.3 billion in 2018.

In a consumer-product world increasingly influenced by Instagram, these numbers are worth chewing on.

Dental Health Good For Trial And Wealth

Merchants beyond drug store chains are nibbling. Macy’s and Bed Bath & Beyond also sell SmileDirectClub kits, for example.

All of which presents opportunities for important vendors. Procter & Gamble’s oral care brands — Crest and Oral-B — generated 8% of total company revenue, or roughly $5 billion, in the last three fiscal years.  Volume sales rose in the single digits in 2018, P&G stated in its annual report.

And at Colgate, oral care represented 48% of its nearly $15.5 billion in revenue in fiscal 2017, the most recent year reported. That’s up from 47% in 2016 and 2015. However, Colgate’s North American market share in toothpastes and brushes declined in 2017 from 2016, it stated in its annual report, so it’s likely seeking opportunities to grow.

By offering dental care services, CVS and Walgreens attract shoppers who are more apt to be looking for new innovations in dental health. These stores could serve as excellent trial locations for new products. Even competing products.

Take at-home aligner treatments such as those offered by SmileDirectClub and which became popular after the launch of Invisalign in 1997. The number of competitors is rising after 40 of Invisalign’s patents expired in October 2018. In addition to SmileDirectClub, new competitors include Orthly and Candid Co., which in addition to its online business operates 10 locations.

Given the growth of competitors in the space, and P&G and Colgate’s desire to freshen and grow their market share, we shouldn’t be surprised to see line extensions designed to capitalize on these trends in the near future.

Behind The Veneer: An Industry Brush-Up?

There is, after all, overlap in the dental services now provided by chains such as Walgreens and products on the shelf. Most of us leave the dentist with a new sample toothbrush, a mini-tube of toothpaste and some fresh floss. What else might we need based on our visit? If the dentist (or tooth aligning service) is in a drug store, the retailer can offer its customers products that complement those professional services or, in some cases, serve as more affordable alternatives.

Take cosmetic treatments like whitening. If the retailer can carry an over-the-counter whitening option that is less expensive than those sold by the dentist, shoppers have more choices, and the merchant generates additional revenue. This could lead to intriguing new products for all shoppers. Among the on-shelf innovations that in-store orthodontia and cosmetic dentistry could inspire:

  1. Whiten as you straighten. In addition to over-the-counter options, Colgate and other makers of tooth-whitening technologies could partner with aligner companies to include their teeth-whitening agents (albeit later in the straightening process when teeth no longer overlap). The uses of dental trays are plentiful. Heck, a French company has created a wearable toothbrush, described as a mouthguard with bristles, that can brush teeth in 10 seconds.
  2. Straightening-pro ruby reds. Lip gloss and lipsticks, especially those applied to puffed-up lips, could leave embarrassing smears on tooth straightening molds; not a great Instagram look. Cosmetic-makers, which include P&G, can test technologies that would prevent their cosmetics from discoloring the dental trays. (And if they already don’t smudge, market them accordingly.)
  3. Strengthen as you straighten. In addition to whitening agents, toothpaste manufacturers and the makers of invisible tooth aligners could partner to include fluoride treatments in the kits. These alignment-friendly treatments, which are often prescription based, also can be offered by dentists operating in stores such as Walgreens.
  4. Aligner-friendly rinses. Aligner trays should be regularly cleaned, and companies such as Invisalign sell cleaning systems. However, there’s room for lower-priced alternatives, including improved mouthwashes that are “invisible aligner safe.” Such rinses should be clear, however, to avoid staining the trays.

Lastly, maybe — maybe — a big brand will come up with a special floss or toothbrush designed expressly to clean those hard-to-reach places in crooked teeth. At the end of the day, or the dentist’s visit, what matters most is that the customer is smiling, even if imperfectly.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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