Democratizing Orthodontia: Meet The Warby Parker Of Straight Teeth

What’s $5,000 for braces when a perfect smile is priceless?

“Too much,” is the answer for many, many consumers. Sixty-five percent of U.S. residents are candidates for orthodontics, but only a small fraction of those go forward with the necessary care due to cost.

There is a wide disparity between those who can afford dental and orthodontic care and those who can’t. Many services are paid in cash, so if customers can’t pay out of pocket, they can’t get them. Yet even with only a small number of people getting the services they need, the U.S. orthodontic market is still worth a staggering $11 billion.

That’s just a testament to the ever-rising price of health and dental care, as Nick Greenfield, Candid CEO, sees it. And prices will only continue to go up. Consumers who can get care in the traditional way will continue to do so. For everyone else, another path is needed.

In a recent interview with Karen Webster, Greenfield explained how Candid leverages a direct eCommerce business model as well as other technologies, many of which were not available even three years ago, to provide an expensive service at an inexpensive rate and in a modern, convenient fashion that meets the expectations and needs of today’s consumers.

Out of Alignment

As a broke twentysomething who, like most, neglected to wear his retainer after having braces as a teen, Greenfield found his teeth starting to shift and his wallet too bare to do anything about it.

That’s when he decided to take on the $11 billion orthodontic industry with a direct eCommerce model – just like Warby Parker, which supplies prescription eyewear direct to consumers without a middle man, except his business would apply that model to orthodontia.

“We’re the Warby Parker of straight teeth,” Greenfield quipped.

Traditionally, getting straight teeth involves metal brackets and wires, exorbitant costs, months or years of suffering and many, many trips to the orthodontist’s office during standard business hours between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. – about once every two weeks for brackets to be checked and tightened.

All of this so teens can get the metal out of their mouths, never wear their retainers and wind up with crooked teeth at 25, just like Greenfield.

Breaking the Mold

That’s exactly the audience Candid aims to reach. Not teenagers, but adults over the age of 18 who may or may not have had braces before and are now working professionals who need an orthodontic plan to fit their lifestyle. Young professionals, working moms and, simply, people who don’t have immediate access or time to visit an orthodontist 30 times to fix their crooked teeth are the target market.

Unlike traditional orthodontia providers, Candid only asks patients to visit an office once, for an initial dental checkup that can help identify any factors that may complicate the process. Greenfield said the in-person component is important for supporting general oral hygiene, such as gum health, along the way. Poor gum health has been linked to heart disease.

Other than that, patients can do the whole process from their living room, just like ordering glasses from Warby Parker. They visit Candid’s website, fill out the survey and, if they’re eligible, order a modeling kit to create a 3D model of their teeth.

When that arrives, they take an impression (just like an orthodontist would do in an office) and a set of orthodontic photos, and mail it all back to Candid in a prepaid envelope. Greenfield said it takes about half an hour to do.

Then, the patient will receive a 3D plan showing step by step how their teeth will move with each two-week alignment set. This is developed by a professional orthodontist, but instead of working out of an office, Greenfield explained that the orthodontist can review photos and molds from the comfort of his home, saving himself and patients the time and expense of office visits.

The alignment sets are 3D printed in clear plastic, so there are no brackets or wires to poke at tender gums, and they can be removed for eating, brushing and flossing. New sets arrive in the mail every two to four weeks, at which time the patient checks in with his or her remote orthodontist.

Greenfield said the whole process takes a grand total of three to 12 months – six, on average – and costs either $1,900 up front or $88 per month over the course of two years if the customer elects to receive financing.

The Tech That Gives Candid Teeth

Greenfield said that a business such as Candid could not have existed five years ago. Even as recently as three years ago, the technology simply wasn’t there. What changed to make it all possible?

First, said Greenfield, there was the rapid rise and development of faith in creating telehealth regulations enabling remote treatment for a variety of business types. Almost every state has passed regulations around telehealth that made this possible, he said.

Then, there is the development of 3D printing technology, which has made great strides in the past half-decade. The cost of 3D printing has come down, while speed has increased and the quality of materials has improved.

There’s the technology that predicts how teeth will move in two-week increments, which is used to develop the treatment plan.

And last but not least, there’s the advancement that everyone takes for granted: high-resolution smartphone photos. Three years ago, said Greenfield, pictures from a mobile phone would not have been good enough and would have been more difficult to upload and submit. Today, they’re a fundamental component of why the business model works.

What It Means for Big Ortha

Greenfield doesn’t expect or intend to take business away from traditional orthodontists. Instead, he says Candid’s goal is to broaden the market by making services accessible and affordable to those who would not have even considered them before.

However, it doesn’t take a tech company to see that the industry has a major opportunity to grow and evolve. So far, this has been happening slowly. Dentists themselves are the ones taking the lead on providing more accessible and affordable care, Greenfield said. Meanwhile, other businesses are also popping up with a focus on lower-cost treatment.

Greenfield predicts that this trend will continue as costs rise and as legislators continue to broaden regulations to allow dentists more freedom to work with patients remotely.

It is tiered access of additional services supported by technology that will lead to evolution, Greenfield predicts – and with that, hopefully, access for everybody.

“People spend years looking in the mirror,” he said. “We want them to be able to live their life in a candid way. Especially as Facebook and Instagram have gained popularity, people have become more self-conscious. We want to help them shine bright and smile.”

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