Michael Apa remembers the first time a patient told him she wanted her teeth fixed because she didn’t like the way they looked in selfies. It was 2015, and Apa’s patient was Huda Kattan, who had good reason to care about her smile: Kattan has leveraged her popular beauty blog and millions of Instagram followers to build a global cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty. In the process, her path to success has been dotted with thousands of close-up images and videos of her own face.
To perfect her teeth, Kattan opted for porcelain veneers, which have exploded in popularity in the past 10 years. Apa, an aesthetic dentist with a quarter-million Instagram followers of his own, documented her procedure on his YouTube channel. Although veneers have been used less glamorously for decades to help non-famous people with serious size or shape problems in some of their teeth, they can also be used to perfect someone’s already-nice smile beyond the capabilities of traditional orthodontia. Veneers start at about $1,000 a tooth, and for top-tier aesthetic dentists such as Apa, they can easily hit $3,000 to $4,000 apiece.
For years, using veneers to perfect already-good teeth was mostly confined to the professionally attractive and fabulously wealthy. They started to gain wide favor among traditional celebrities in the late 1990s and might have stayed confined to those rarefied circles were it not for Instagram. The platform’s cabal of mostly young, mostly female, mostly preternaturally attractive power users, often referred to as “influencers,” are under immense pressure to meet the same beauty standards as their traditionally famous—and often far wealthier—Hollywood counterparts. Now Apa hears the desire to look better in selfies all the time, from people with all kinds of jobs. “Every cosmetic procedure has just gone crazy in popularity since Instagram became a thing,” he says.