Drug Store Dentistry: Could Your Pharmacy Soon Provide Your Oral Health Treatments?

Although 127.6 million U.S. adults visited a dentist in 2017, this activity probably isn’t high on your list of favorite things. In fact, it’s been estimated that 61% of people worldwide suffer from dental anxiety and fear — a phobia that often keeps patients from making appointments with their dentists as often as they should. But that could soon change if drug store chains have their way. Instead of having to go under the drill in the dentist’s chair, you might simply need to make a trip to CVS or Walgreens.

Although 74% of adults believe that an unattractive smile can hinder their professional aspirations and over 99% believe a healthy smile is socially important, that doesn’t mean most of us are eager to get a dental check-up every year. That’s actually what Walgreens and CVS are banking on, as it provides these stores with the opportunity to add in-demand services that might soon be attainable without the dentist-related dread. Both chains are planning to increase their investments in oral and dental care: Walgreens is set to open dental offices within two of its Florida stores, while CVS now has six in-store kiosks offering invisible braces kits and services through SmileDirectClub.

The actions of both companies could make dental care more accessible — not just to those who fear going to the dentist’s office but to those who cannot otherwise afford treatment. The decision to focus on Florida may be a lucrative one for Walgreens, given the state’s high population of senior citizens. Because Medicare benefits don’t typically include dental care, seniors may actually be able to save on out-of-pocket costs by purchasing treatment options at their local Walgreens (through partner Aspen Dental, which posts prices online) than if they were to go to their regular dentist. And since Invisalign patents expired in 2017, possibilities have opened up for competitors who can now offer teeth straightening options for more affordable prices.

As of late, both chains have made attempts to diversify their offerings. CVS Health recently acquired health insurer Aetna and launched a prescription delivery drug service. Walgreens, for its part, has already added kiosks for Sprint and FedEx in some locations and is even working with Birchbox to make its beauty aisles a bit more high-end. With the addition of new oral care services, both retailers may be hoping to turn their stores into one-stop-shops for health and wellness, rather than having customers drop in only to pick up a prescription or a new tube of inexpensive mascara.

Of course, having a teeth whitening kiosk or two locations with dental offices won’t be enough to alleviate the need for U.S. residents to visit their dentist on an annual basis. But if the pilot programs go well, it’s possible that you might be able to achieve a brighter and healthier smile at the same place you go for late night snacks, over-the-counter medications, and cheap makeup.

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