Guest writer Ali Dockerty explores the claim that 3D printers and app-based dentistry could reduce the cost of dentist visits by 25%.
Dental startups like Candid and Carbon – which claims to reduce patient costs by 25% – are changing the way people access dental services through the application of smartphone technology, 3D printing, and new materials. While the potential of 3D printed dental devices has long been recognised as a great cost reducer for oral healthcare, the combination with app-based service options and customised care has opened new horizons for dental care. Not only have new methods of producing dental implements like mouth guards, implants, and aligners made the process more cost-effective, the ability to 3D print such objects has opened up care options as well. This shift towards startups over traditional orthodontists is poised to help bring dental care access to many low-income and rural communities around the world, closing the gap in access to oral care.
The Rise of Personalised Service
One underappreciated aspect of these new dental startups is that, in addition to making the process of ordering services and products simpler, they have also unbundled a lot of services that were traditionally offered together. It used to be that you had the same orthodontic service for everything from your child’s braces themselves to mouth guards and retainers. Now, there are separate services available for 3D printed aligners that you can order without seeing an orthodontist in comparison to custom mouth guards, for instance, which you can now have delivered right to your home.
These advances save patients time and money by removing the need to go into an office or to pay consultation fees, which is filling important gaps in the US, for example, where as many as 65% of people can’t afford all the dental care they need. Plus, patients can now shop around for just the services they need. Finally, app-based oral healthcare is helping people in rural areas access dentists at all. Videoconferencing and in-app oral health tracking are both giving dentists and orthodontists better access to rural communities, which is an important advancement for oral health worldwide.
The 3D Revolution
Behind the unbundling of services and the application of smartphone tech to improve ordering, booking, and consultation, much of this advance in dentistry has been driven by the application of 3D printing. 3D printing in dentistry and orthodontics has been around for a decade, but new applications and approaches are being developed all the time. For one, 3D printing has become more precise and less costly over the years, opening the way for more and more startups to access the technology. This also means new forms of dental and orthodontic equipment are being developed for 3D printing all the time.
In particular, recent research has focused on 3D printing materials for applications other than moulding. So, the University of Groningen, for instance, is working on a 3D printed material that would kill bacteria on impact. Other potential applications include adhesive materials and oral sanitisers that could one day even replace your toothbrush and floss. All of these advancements need a way to make it to patients, though, and that’s where the startups come in, using new communication infrastructure to offer consumers up to date care options. So, we’re seeing new applications of dental science reach the market faster thanks to the ubiquitousness of smartphone technology and the unbundling of dental and orthodontic services.
On-Demand Dentistry is Big Business
It’s easy to see why the dental startup space is so exciting. It offers better access for consumers as well as providers. It’s not just about lower income and rural consumers though, high end dental startups are part of the ecosystem too.
For wealthier consumers, smartphone dentistry means more than just access. It means easier booking and custom care. On the high end of app-based dentistry services, patients with access to dentists and orthodontists can supplement their care through startups that offer greater combustibility, home delivery, and app-based at-home dental care support. This is one reason that dental startups are growing rapidly as an industry, along with their potential to increase access to care. For one example, Candid recently raised 63.4 billion in a new round of investment, and other startups are showing similar strength.
With the potential to help both the least well off in society and the high income boutique shopper, smart dentistry is here to stay, and it’s changing the way we think about oral health.