Shinier days ahead for oral hygiene?

March 11, 2011

Recession disarms spending on oral care, in dental offices and over the counter.

For the first time in 50 years that the federal government has tracked national health expenditures, consumers' out-of-pocket spend for dental services has fallen from $44.9 billion in 2008 to $42.5 billion in 2009, a 5.5% drop, show newly released figures by the American Dental Association. Per capital dental spending was $332 in 2009.

If people are saving money on dentists and hygienists since the recession infected household budgets, are they relying more on water fluoridation and over-the-counter self-care regimens to keep their mouths free from trouble? Fluoridation is an effective preventative, yet HHS recently proposed less fluoride in drinking water based on a rise in dental fluorosis (mottled teeth enamel) over the past 20 years.

Another development that could indirectly benefit OTC sales of oral hygiene products (through greater awareness) is the new health reform law's inclusion of pediatric oral services within an essential health-benefits package for covered children. Youngsters growing up paying attention to their teeth could make the category shine long-term.

The oral hygiene category could use the boost.  

Dollar sales are a minuscule amount below their level of two years in U.S. food, drug and mass merchandiser stores (including Walmart) for the 52 weeks ended January 22, 2011. At $5.36 billion, they bumped up 0.7% in this latest period on a 2.5% equivalized unit volume increase; in the prior year, a 0.7% dip in dollar sales occurred on a 1.1% EUV advance, Nielsen data show.

Key oral hygiene segments posted mixed results, according to Nielsen reports:

  • Tooth cleaners, the largest segment, moved up 1.0% to $1.88 billion on a 0.8% EUV increase in the most recent 52 weeks. This followed a 0.9% dollar sales rise on a 1.8% EUV decline in the year earlier.
  • Oral rinses and antiseptics, the second-largest segment, were up too. Dollar sales edged ahead 0.7% to $1.02 billion on a 0.3% EUV increase. This was better than year-earlier performance, when dollar sales fell by 3.0% and EUV dropped 4.6%.
  • Brushes, the third-largest segment, posted dollar sales below the level of two years ago, even though unit sales have soared. At $897.5 million in the latest period, flat dollar sales belied an 11.8% EUV jump. A year earlier, dollar sales dipped 0.2% on a 29.9% EUV boost.
  • Appliances and accessories, the fourth-largest segment, posted dollar sales below the level of two years ago, as unit sales fell. The $453.0 million posted in the latest 52 weeks was down 0.8% on a 5.5% EUV decline. A year earlier, dollar sales slid 4.6% on a 16.2% EUV tumble.
  • Dental floss, the fifth-largest segment, posted gains in each of the past two years. Dollar sales rose 3.9% to $272.8 million on a 5.2% EUV increase in the latest 52 weeks, a performance following a year in which dollar sales were up 3.1% and EUV was up 5.8%, states Nielsen.


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