For many, a perfect smile is a considered a high priority. Late last year, CivicScience reported on the complexities of orthodontia, a dental niche specifically designed to help improve the function and, as a result, aesthetic appearance of the mouth. However, dental devices are not the only means by which individuals are pursuing more beautiful teeth.

Teeth whitening has been a popular practice across cultures for thousands of years. However, the bleaching methods with which we’re familiar today actually hit the market as recently as 1980. Since then, countless teeth whitening options have come onto the scene, giving patients many options for how to whiten their smile.

To better understand the current U.S. adult’s experience with teeth whitening, CivicScience asked 1,880 individuals about whether they had undergone teeth whitening, what method they used, and, if they had not experienced it, if they were interested.

U.S. Adults Want White Teeth

As the data reveals, 48% of U.S. adults–just under half of adults in the country–have either experienced or are interested in pursuing teeth whitening. Of those, 24% have used an over-the-counter product, suggesting substantial interest in attaining the perfect smile.

Of those who have experienced teeth whitening, women are the most likely to have used an over the counter product, while men are the most interested in doing so.

When discussing gender, it is also worth noting that  56% of those who have no interest or need in teeth whitening identify as male. It is difficult to argue with the fact that beauty standards are differentiated along gender lines. And in the data above, it is clear that, once again, cosmetic procedures seem especially targeted towards and pursued by women.

Gender is not the only factor when it comes to whitening teeth. Stage of life may also play a role, as interest in teeth whitening tends to skew towards middle age. Respondents ages 35-54 are the most likely to have already whitened their teeth, either with an over-the-counter product or by a dentist.

As an adult, priorities tend to change over time. While cosmetic procedures in general may be more popular among a younger adult crowd, it seems that a brighter smile has captivated the attention of those who are presumably more established in their personal and professional lives.

Occupation, Income, and Location Impact the Perfect Smile

Speaking of profession, job does matter when it comes to whitening teeth. Individuals with managerial or professional roles are the most likely to have already experienced teeth whitening, with a slight trend towards teeth whitening at the dentist’s office. That said, people who are retired make up a substantial number of individuals in this same category.

Given the fact that teeth whitening is a purely cosmetic procedure and one not covered by insurance, income matters when assessing who has and who would like to it. Middle-income earners make up the bulk of those who have had their teeth whitened, both with over-the-counter products and at the doctor’s office. Perhaps not surprisingly, low-income earners are very interested, but less represented in the top two categories.

This assessment of occupation and income sheds light on the way that individuals prioritize their spending money, while also speaking to potential social norms that prevail across class lines. Traditional business professionals and middle-income earners may subscribe to a unique set of values that make teeth whitening more normalized and desirable than it might be for those in different professional fields or income levels.

Location provides further details regarding where teeth whitening might be the most popular. As it stands, respondents in the suburbs are the most experienced in getting their teeth whitened. They also maintain the most interest, however, those in urban and rural demographics are not far behind in their desire for over-the-counter whitening products.

A Brighter Smile for Social Media?

With all the buzz around social media, it seems possible that the image-centric bend of 21st-century life could be leading U.S. adults to place more focus on having a perfect smile. However, the inverse is actually true.

The less social media an individual uses, the more likely they are to have had or be interested in teeth whitening.

White Teeth May Buy Happiness   

What’s more, it seems that white teeth may actually lead to an overall higher estimation of one’s attractiveness. When looking at physical attractiveness, those who think they are above average in that department are 3x as likely as those who think they are less attractive to have used an OTC whitening product. 

Ultimately, teeth whitening is a widely popular choice for adults across the country, specifically those in professional jobs, earning a mid-level income and living in the suburbs. The popularity amongst this demographic coupled with the improvement in self-esteem suggests that a more perfect smile may represent an element of an aspirational lifestyle.