Attention, Oral Health Advertisers: TikTok Has Brand Safety Issues

By Dr. Kami Hoss

I have owned a dental brand for three decades and have leveraged digital marketing to grow my company to several California locations and 250 employees. With all that in mind, I pay close attention to what consumers, ad agencies, marketers, and brands of all sizes are doing on social media.

As a dentist and a parent, I have never felt more concerned about how online information may impact teenagers’ oral health than I have since the rise in popularity of TikTok. And as a marketer, I think health marketers who are investing ad budget on TikTok, such as Palmolive-Colgate or Procter & Gamble’s Crest and Pepsodent, should know the platform has brand safety issues. Indeed, brand safety — which has negatively impacted marketing on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat for years — has come for digital marketing’s shiny new object.

For the last few months, I’ve been flooded with calls from concerned friends of mine who are teachers and parents about some new trends circulating on TikTok that could leave a lasting impact on their child’s smile. Believe me, when I first heard of the fads like shaving your teeth with a nail file to change their shape or super-gluing fangs to your cuspids, I was so floored — I nearly fell out of my chair!

Maybe it’s that we’re all bored after months of lockdown and taking classes on Zoom. Or maybe it’s that DIY is becoming more popular in the COVID-19 era. Either way, this activity is not at all safe for kids, and I don’t know why any brand would want to be near it.

When I first learned of the nail-filing trend on TikTok, it took me a minute to realize it wasn’t a hoax. Teenagers and young adults are taking a nail file that you can buy at any drug store and shaving the ends of their teeth so they’re perfectly in line. Videos of this “DIY teeth filing” are being shared all over social media, by influencers trying it out for themselves and encouraging their viewers to do so as well.

Let me tell you why this is a terrible idea. First, unlike hair or nails, teeth do not grow back. Whatever you do to them now is irreversible and could require several painful and costly procedures to remedy, if even possible. Teeth are made from enamel, which is the hardest structure in your body — even stronger than bone. By altering your enamel, you can get sensitivity or pain, and increase the risk of cavities. Not to mention, if you file your teeth down too much, you can hit a nerve (which will cause extreme pain) or a blood vessel, potentially damaging the tooth permanently or even losing the tooth. Such damage may not be reversed by even the best orthodontist.

My brand uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram — you name it — for marketing purposes. My marketing team has yet to invest in TikTok like so many other companies have done this year, and I cannot say we’re itching to build our presence on the platform due to it spreading harmful information about oral health.

And it’s not just DIY teeth-filing. Another emerging brand safety issue on TikTok is adolescents who super-glue plastic nails to their teeth to make them look like vampire fangs. There are multiple reasons this is a bad idea. First off — super glue is toxic and the last place you want to put it is in your mouth. But also, how are you going to get those “fangs” off? It’s not that easy. There are reports showing that many people are actually breaking or accidentally pulling out their teeth in the process.

I feel the need to bring these brand safety concerns to the forefront so oral health marketers know what they are buying advertising against. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have been trying to clean up their platforms for marketers. If you are a brand or agency marketing toothpaste and alike products, you should demand TikTok do the same.

Dr. Kami Hoss is founder and CEO of the Super Dentists and Howard Health Academy.

This article was originally posted on the Association of National Advertisers website on March 24, 2021.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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