Like most women, I too have mourned my beauty routine as the pandemic stretched through the spring, then the summer, and eventually the fall. My morning makeup, which once consisted of a quick, in-Uber application of concealer, lip/cheek/eye tint, and brow gel was quickly whittled down to an in-bathroom application of whatever helped me look not half-asleep on Zoom calls, and I have been yearning for a high-maintenance haircut, a color appointment, and regular manicures (remember regular manicures?) for the past ten months. But I have had another, admittedly superficial concern as I have spent the better part of this year doomscrolling my newsfeed: my teeth.
Somehow, over the course of transitioning to a social life-free, remote existence, my mouth started to feel, well, kind of gross. All the time. Not for lack of upping my oral care game. Like my newfound attention to long, drawn-out showers (the next best thing to a spa appointment), I have been diligent about brushing twice a day and flossing every single night. But it hasn’t been enough. I started developing all kinds of theories about why life in isolation has disproportionately affected my mouth: perhaps it is my reduced exposure to other people, thus minimizing the amount I am talking? Or maybe something about not leaving the house? The idea that UV exposure had significantly impacted my tooth and gum health in the past is unlikely, but also, maybe it isn’t?
“You have a gum infection,” my dentist told me when I finally broke down and made a cleaning appointment about six months after I was due, and three months after dental offices were allowed to reopen in New York City with stringent, CDC-compliant protocols. “But you’re not alone in feeling like your teeth have been falling apart. Almost everyone who has been quarantined has had that same feeling. I think it’s more of a psychological thing,” cosmetic dentist Marc Lowenberg, DDS hypothesizes; although that hasn’t stopped him from ruminating on a few alternative theories about our collective plaque build-up as well. “I can’t prove this, but when I was locked up in my house for three months earlier this year, I ate stuff that I never normally eat, and eating snacks—whether it’s carbs, or sweets—can definitely add to the build-up of bacteria that sits on your teeth.” More likely, though, he says, that grunge-y, filmy feeling is due to so many of us putting off regular cleanings, even as dental offices began reopening.
Ironically, or perhaps because of the decreased rate at which we’re all going to the dentist, there has been a simultaneous uptick in at-home oral care brands that are looking to bridge the gap between humdrum maintenance, and self-care. “I call it elevating your routine,” says Shaun Neff, the serial entrepreneur behind Beach House Group, which has successfully helped build Pattern Beauty with Tracee Ellis Ross, Florence by Mills with Milly Bobby Brown, and Moon, an Instagram-worthy oral care brand created in collaboration with Kendall Jenner. “Oral care is a category that is trust-driven,” Neff says, noting that it was important for him to partner with accredited dentists and hygienists when conceiving Moon two years ago. “But there was nothing on the market that was not only efficacious but that looked beautiful on your shelf,” he continues—which has become increasingly important in these days of organizing (and reorganizing) your #shelfie. Moon’s on-the-go Teeth Whitening Pen, which Jenner fronts—and which “looks rad,” says Neff—has been the brand’s bestseller during the pandemic, offering easy, pre-Zoom touch ups. But the brand’s splashiest launch arrived in October when Moon collaborated with streetwear designer Heron Preston on a toothpaste that lathered into an orange foam, Preston’s signature color. It arrived in limited quantities on the sneakerhead site StockX.com and promptly sold out. “We saw stuff on eBay that night for $90,” reports Neff. “There is not one other oral care player in the world that’s going to do a collab like this.”