Tech and insurance go hand in hand when it comes to dental innovation

By Jonah Comstock
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When it comes to dental health, companies seem to more and more see consumer technology and insurance as natural partners. Beam Dental, which started out in the smart toothbrush space but expanded a few years ago into dental insurance, raised $22.5 million today. At the same time, quip, a smart toothbrush company that raised $10 million last year, acquired dental health plan Afora, in a move that mirrors Beam's pivot.

“With over 100 million Americans without any dental coverage at all, and many with coverage that doesn’t incentivize making the most of your covered preventative care, we feel it is essential to offer an alternative that can help more people visit the dentist more often, for less," Simon Enever, CEO and cofounder of quip, said in a statement. "Bringing Afora into quip Labs allows us to accelerate this project towards our mission of supporting our members through all aspects of their oral care routine, from the products they use everyday, to the professionals they visit every six months”.

quip offers its own ADA-approved electric toothbrush for $25, a subscription service that sends replacement heads every three months for $5 per shipment, and an online platform called Dental Connect. The platform helps dentists who sign up to remind patients about regular check-ups and reward them for coming in with free brushes.

The move into insurance with the purchase of Afora, for an undisclosed amount, is the beginning of quip Labs, which the company describes as "a venture studio created to foster innovation and development of emerging oral health products, platforms, and services".

Afora describes itself as not insurance but a dental care membership plan: members pay $25 per month for two cleanings per year, an annual exam, and an annual X-ray. Any additional care is not covered, though membership does confer a discount.

"There’s a huge opportunity to bring the same reverence and innovation happening in broader health care to oral health, while providing access to quality of life-changing oral health treatments previously unattainable to many, through affordable, simple to understand and easy to manage plans," Dr. Jeffrey Rappaport, founder of Afora, said in a statement. "As a practicing dentist, I’ve had to deal with the painful experience of using traditional insurance processes and claims in my practices. That’s one of the reasons I created Afora, and I’m excited to continue building a service that will facilitate more affordable, easier, and higher quality care for both patients and dental professionals, and share it with the huge consumer and professional network that quip has amassed over the past three years.”

Beam, meanwhile, has more or less made its 2016 expansion into insurance into a full pivot. While the company still offers its Bluetooth-connected toothbrush to members, the focus is now on dental insurance for small- to medium-sized businesses. And the strategy seems to be working out: the company today announced $22.5 million in Series C funding led by Kleiner Perkins.

"There has been little innovation in dental insurance in many years, resulting in a commoditized market," CEO Alex Frommeyer said in a statement. "We're excited to partner with Kleiner Perkins to change the expectations of SMBs all over the country when it comes to accessing affordable dental care with best in class service and support."

The company also distinguishes itself through automated enrollment and claims processing, and with VSP to help businesses secure both dental and vision plans for employees.