Dr. Sara Hahn starts every TikTok video the same way: “Dr. Sara, Harvard DMD, here for a veneer check.”
Her account analyzes celebrities’ teeth, comparing older and newer photos to determine whether the likes of Winona Ryder, Jojo Siwa, and Timothée Chalamet have gotten veneers. She flips through a timeline of photos and drops some dental jargon — central incisor, facial crowning, lingually inclined, etc. — before delivering her veneer verdict, declaring whether the celeb has gotten their teeth dentally enhanced in her professional opinion.
Her videos, which have collectively amassed more than four million likes to date, lift the veil on celebrity smiles and create a discourse around oral care and beauty standards. Her viewers can’t get enough: The comment sections are constantly flooded with requests for the next veneer investigation.
“My whole aim is never to bash anybody, or insult somebody’s choice for dental work,” Dr. Hahn told Mashable. “It is really just to educate people on dental work, and what are some of the benefits, or potential cons and disadvantages.”
Dr. Hahn isn’t the only one that has found a TikTok audience rapt for pearly white content. On the creator side, the dentist influencer community consistently makes educational and eye-popping videos about oral health. Doctors like @drzmackie, who has nearly 1 million followers on the app, now have the opportunity to educate viewers about their teeth and advocate against dangerous DIY dental trends.
Despite dentist creators’ best efforts to promote oral health over dental trends, TikTok users are largely fixated on aesthetics. Users frequently comment on both their own teeth and others’ — regardless of whether teeth are actually the focus of the video.
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Comments from TikTokkers about their own teeth on a video explicitly discussing white teeth culture.
Credit: Screenshot: TikTok
Comment about a creator’s “perfect teeth” on a video that has nothing to do with teeth or aesthetics.
Credit: Screenshot: TikTok
The platform itself promotes this hyperfixation. On the AR side of the app, filters like Teeth Brightener and Color Selector are extremely popular. These filters overlay a uniformly straight and white set of teeth on your face or can test whether your real teeth have any hint of yellow in them, and almost every video using them opens up the comment discussion to whether the user has desirable teeth.
Social media has always been deeply inundated with images of pristine, white teeth and celeb-like smiles. The typical Instagram influencer floods our feeds with their perfect teeth and sponsored content for teeth-whitening products like Snow and Crest 3D Whitestrips. On an internet forum where pretty people and the pursuit of beauty are discussed or used to sell a product, white teeth are an expected and desired feature.
We’ve always been obsessed with straight, white teeth; it’s part of the beauty standard and it’s not going away. But while TikTok viewers may be enamored with the same beauty ideals that defined social media apps before it, TikTok teeth creators like Dr. Hahn want to pivot our cultural pursuit for beautiful teeth into a journey for health.
Why are we constantly pursuing ‘perfect’ teeth?
Historically, we’ve long realized the necessity of oral care. Beauty historian Lucy Santos tells Mashable that there is archaeological evidence dating back to 3500 BC that suggests various methods for oral hygiene and safety. Over the centuries, people were generally most concerned with just making sure their teeth stayed in their heads — but this focus on health shifted to aesthetics with the arrival of mass media, and later, the internet.
“Mass media, including advertisements, sell white teeth as part of the American dream and a way of improving employment prospects and finding the love of your life,” said Santos to Mashable.
Americans today have absolutely bought into these ads, with the U.S. teeth whitening market reaching $2.2 billion in 2021 and the orthodontics market reaching $3.23 billion in the same year. And the advertisements aren’t exactly selling an impossible dream — having whiter and straighter teeth can directly lead to more financial and career opportunities, both virtually and physically. In real life, folks with more yellow or crooked teeth feel that they are often denied jobs due to their first impressions. In an interview for CalMatters, construction worker Delilah Garcia explained how she suspected her chipped and missing tooth directly contributed to her not getting a job. Once she was able to fix the tooth at a free clinic, the same employer later offered her the job, pleasedly remarking at the interview that she had fixed her tooth.
On the internet, it seems every successful influencer sports the same set of teeth: even, bright, and blinding. This, too, can relate to their streams of income. As Emily Hund, researcher at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, told The Atlantic, “Part of this is a push to stick with aesthetics that are safe and which do well, metrics-wise.” Those aesthetics include the perfect smile, and Hund says that achieving these aesthetics can directly lead to more positive engagement and followers, which can then lead to additional revenue via sponsorships and brand deals. It quite literally pays to be pretty on the internet, and being pretty for most audiences quietly requires perfect teeth.
“The internet means we are only a click away from videos, articles, blog posts that give techniques to get whiter teeth,” said Santos. “And all of them are adding to the cacophony of expectation that white teeth are not only desirable but achievable for everyone.”
TikTok dentists are hoping to educate users on health rather than pure aesthetics
TikTok users are not immune to this desire for perfect teeth. Scroll through the app long enough, and you’re likely to find a comment complimenting another user’s teeth, a video employing a filter to whiten teeth, or an ad telling you how you can whiten your own teeth.
Dr. Hahn is hoping to cut through this noise with her videos, demystifying how celebrities achieve their desirable smiles while emphasizing her support for natural, beautiful teeth. She joins the ranks of a plethora of other online dentists who use the platform to educate users about dental procedures and oral health.
“People who have beautiful, healthy teeth are wanting these large, white squares because that’s what’s considered beautiful,” said Dr. Hahn. “But I’m really hoping to discourage people who have what I consider beautiful, natural teeth from getting a full set of veneers.”
Veneers, in particular, are a very expensive and recently popular form of dental procedures for perfect teeth. Tons of celebrities are rumored to undergo the procedure, but only a few stars, like Cardi B and Chrissy Teigen, are open about getting veneers to enhance their teeth. They can cost anywhere from $1,000 to upwards of $3,000 per tooth, and can come with health implications due to a loss of natural tooth structure. While Dr. Hahn often works on veneers in her prosthodontic practice, she would prefer they be used more in complicated dental cases rather than young people attempting to emulate their idols’ appearances.
That’s where she feels like her videos come in; they provide a window of transparency into the world of elective orthodontia, giving users the information they need to make informed decisions on whether they want to pursue a similar path. She makes sure to emphasize her appreciation for natural teeth in all of their varied shapes and colors — and even made a veneer check video on her own teeth, where she tells viewers how they can advocate to keep their natural teeth, even if some dentists may suggest aesthetic procedures.
“I’ve had comments that say like, ‘Thank you so much for helping me appreciate my own teeth.'” says Dr. Hahn. “And I’ve had so many people say, I no longer want veneers because of your videos. And that makes me really happy.”