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From at-home orthodontics to coconut-flavoured floss: Meet the startups disrupting the dental industry

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For decades the experience of caring for your teeth looked something like this: Visit the dentist every six or nine months. Take home a new toothbrush from the hygienist. Use it to brush at least twice daily. Repeat.

If you or your child needed teeth straightened, you got a referral to an orthodontist, hoped your insurance and savings could cover it and paid whatever price you were quoted.

But today a host of companies are disrupting the dental industry with everything from at-home orthodontic impressions to coconut-flavoured dental floss in Instagram-worthy packaging to a $290 toothbrush alternative that promises to clean your teeth in six seconds.

Some are competing on price, slashing costs we’d come to think as fixed. Others are injecting luxury into the banal, working to position the age-old tasks of brushing and flossing into the realm of wellness lifestyle capturing the attention of kombucha and SoulCycle enthusiasts.

SmileDirectClub, the U.S.-based company that provides at-home, dentist-directed teeth straightening using clear “aligners” — similar to the ones provided by Invisalign — launched in Canada in November.

Orthodontic care from home

The teledentistry startup was launched four years ago and employs 3,000 people. It flips the traditional orthodontic business on its head by sending patients kits they can use to take impressions of their teeth themselves, eliminating the need for bricks-and-mortar clinics. 

As a result the prices are as much as 60 per cent less than traditional orthodontic care, says Alex Fenkell, who co-founded the company with Jordan Katzman. 

As you can imagine, anytime there’s a disruptive element or product that gets introduced, the establishment gets excited and worried.– Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, SmileDirectClub’s lead dentist

The two met at summer camp when they were 13 years old. Fenkell says, “We both had a full mouth of metal wired braces. It was a pain point in our youth.”

As grown-up business partners, Fenkell says they were “shocked by the prices” and how much of the potential market for teeth straightening didn’t have easy access to orthodontic care.

Smile Direct Club clients receive packages like the one seen here for taking impressions of their teeth at home. (SmileDirectClub)

The at-home model allows SmileDirectClub to offer straighter teeth to people who live prohibitively far from the nearest orthodontist office. 

The Canadian Institute for Health Information says that in six of the 10 provinces people have access to less than one orthodontist per 10,000 square kilometres.

The company does have some physical locations, however, so-called SmileShops where those who live in major centres can opt to have their mouth scanned. Fenkell says the company has five Canadian locations open now and will open two more by the end of the year.

Flat price and payment plans

All SmileDirectClub treatments cost $2,350 for Canadian customers. Alternatively, they can pay a $300 deposit followed by monthly payments of $99.

The company can offer a flat fee because it doesn’t take on complex cases. 

“We focus primarily on mild to moderate misalignment, which involve crowding or spacing of teeth,” says Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, the company’s lead dentist.

If a patient presents with a bite that needs to be corrected or misalignment that’s more severe, the company refers to a traditional orthodontist, he says.

SmileDirectClub follows the better known Invisalign, which pioneered the use of clear aligners as an alternative to traditional braces that adhere to the teeth.

Customers receive a set of disposable aligners each a little different based on where the teeth are meant to be, shifting gradually into their desired position.

But teeth straightening isn’t the only part of the dental business to change in recent years.

Sleek toothbrushes and Insta-worthy dental floss

If you’re a regular podcast listener, you may have heard an ad for a sleek looking electric toothbrush called Quip, with a subscription service that delivers new brush heads on a “dentist recommended schedule.”

Danish entrepreneurs just raised $1.5 million through crowdfunding of their Unobrush, a device that looks nothing like a standard toothbrush and promises to clean teeth twice as well in only six seconds. The company’s website explains that users bite down on a patent-pending medical foam that moulds to the teeth and uses pulsing to clean them all at once. The foam device then slides into a docking station that sanitizes the Unobrush using UV light.

Beam Dental, another company based in the United States, links data from the electric brushes it provides to the dental insurance it sells. Brush well and your insurance premiums will go down.

Sisters Catherine and Chrystle Chu created Cocofloss to make flossing more effective and appealing to customers who are otherwise engaged with wellness but falling down on the job of flossing. (Cocofloss)

Even humble floss is getting a makeover.

Catherine Chu co-founded Cocofloss with her sister, Chrystle Chu, a dentist in San Mateo, Calif., just outside San Francisco.

“She had been practising dentistry for several years in the Bay Area and she was so perplexed at this weird paradigm where she had a very healthy and young patient base who invested a lot in self-care, in going to the gym and eating the right foods, but for some reason or another were not flossing,” says Catherine Chu.

The two decided to invent a floss that would remove more plaque because it’s more textured, and that comes in stylish, colourful packaging that customers don’t mind leaving out on the bathroom counter. It’s available in some retail shops like Sephora and Anthropologie, but most customers buy through the company’s website, both through individual purchases and subscriptions, she says.

Not all of these changes have been as welcome as better and prettier dental floss, though.

Concerns about treatment quality

The Canadian Association of Orthodontists has major misgiving about the quality of treatment with the SmileDirectClub model, where treatment plans and patient monitoring are done remotely, says association president Jay Philippson, an orthodontist from Duncan, B.C.

“We should be concerned about quality of care. If I start a case I want to be sure I can finish it as best as possible. People at the direct-to-consumer companies, they can’t monitor the patients as well as we can,” says Philippson. 

Regulatory agencies in Canada are going to have an issue with it as soon as there is a complaint.– Jay Philippson, Canadian Association of Orthodontists president

He says dentists creating and monitoring treatment plans from afar don’t have as complete a picture of a patient’s dental history, including X-rays and full patient files. 

“Regulatory agencies in Canada are going to have an issue with it as soon as there is a complaint.”

At SmileDirectClub, Sulitzer, who has been practising for 34 years, says he doesn’t find the misgivings surprising. 

“As you can imagine, anytime there’s a disruptive element or product that gets introduced, the establishment gets excited and worried,” he says. 

But Sulitzer says that when he talks to wary dentists and orthodontists about the treatment process, company mission and that it doesn’t take on complex cases, many come around.

Fenkell draws an analogy to the auto industry, where there are vehicles at many price points. If only traditional orthodontic treatment is available, he says, it would be like saying that “unless you can afford a Mercedes-Benz, you don’t deserve to drive.”

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Real Estate

Couple from Toronto buys dream home in Mushaboom

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MUSHABOOM – A couple who lived and raised a family in downtown Toronto developed a five-year plan in 2015 to purchase their dream home.

In September they moved into the home – located on Malagash Island in Mushaboom on Nova Scotia’s stunning Eastern Shore – that met and exceeded their best dreams for their retirement.

The Camerons, Bruce and Tanya, decided in 2019 they would explore the Maritimes to see what real estate was available to become their potential retirement home. In the spring of 2020, during a global pandemic, the real estate boom hit their city, and they were hearing the same for Nova Scotia. Our province was their first-choice for attaining their desire for an entirely different lifestyle – away from the busyness of the city.

“We had $300,000 to $350,000 as a home value in mind to buy. Our semi-detached located off Danforth in Toronto was priced at $850,000. We wanted to come out ahead, so we would be secure in retirement,” Tanya said.

Their century-old home had prime location near the subway and GO Transit Line for a great 13-minute commute downtown.

“We enjoyed our community,” explains Bruce “… we had great neighbours, young children around and street parties – lots of social activity.”

Bruce says, “Our agent suggested a starting quote of $899,000. We did not do any renovations and only some staging. Fifty couples went through and we received four significant offers. Six days later we sold – with zero conditions – and a price of over a million dollars. We just requested a closing of September 2020 to get the kids off to school – which we got.”

The couple got more than they had anticipated.

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Real Estate

Rabobank Announces Leadership Changes in U.S., Canadian Offices

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NEW YORK, Dec. 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Rabobank, the leading global food and agribusiness bank, has appointed two of its top executives, Tamira Treffers-Herrera and Robert Sinescu, to become Co-Heads of North American Client Coverage, positioning the Bank for future growth in the region.

Treffers-Herrera has also assumed the role of Vice Chairperson and Head of the Atlanta office, where she additionally oversees Rabobank Mexico, which is led by Eduardo Palacios. Sinescu is the Head of the Chicago office, and also oversees Rabobank Canada, led by Marc Drouin, who was recently appointed as Canada’s General Manager.

Treffers-Herrera and Sinescu report to David Bassett, Head of Wholesale Banking North America, the Bank’s corporate and investment banking business for the region based in New York.

“Both Tamira and Robert have a demonstrated history of strong leadership, operational excellence and passion for our clients,” Bassett said. “Their broad experience and deep sector expertise will be invaluable in delivering dynamic results for clients while accelerating our growth trajectory in North America.”

Each office will have an even greater focus on key Food & Agribusiness sectors and clients: The Chicago office will drive growth in sectors including Dairy, Farm Inputs and Grains & Oilseeds, which are also key areas of focus for the Canada office. The Atlanta office will focus heavily on sectors such as Animal Protein, Beverages, Sugar, and Supply Chains, which are important sectors in Mexico as well.

“Rabobank is fully committed to our clients throughout North America, and we believe our new sector-focused coverage will improve our ability to provide knowledge-based, value-added solutions that benefit our clients,” Bassett said.

Treffers-Herrera was most recently based in London as CEO of Rabobank’s European Region from 2016-2020, where she took the organization through Brexit. Prior to that, she worked in the Atlanta office from 2002-2016. During her tenure in Atlanta, Treffers-Herrera served as Global Sector Head – Consumer Food & Beverages, and prior to that she was a senior banker for a portfolio of large beverage and consumer foods clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Kentucky, a Master of Arts from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and has studied at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Harvard Business School.

Sinescu has been with Rabobank for over 21 years and was previously General Manager of Rabobank Canada, where he oversaw all operations, business development, commercial strategy and relationships with regulators. In addition, he continues to serve as CEO of Rabo Securities Canada Inc. Prior to Canada, he was a senior banker, Head of Corporate Banking, European Sector Head for Sugar, and a member of the Management Team for Rabobank France. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business from the Bucharest School of Business, a Master of Business Administration & Management and a Master of Science in Banking and Corporate Finance from Sorbonne University in Paris, and has studied at Brown University.

Drouin has worked with Rabobank’s Canadian team for more than nine years and most recently served as a senior banker, Head of Rabobank Canada’s AgVendor Program and a member of Rabobank Canada’s Management Team. He brings extensive wholesale banking experience within the Dairy, G&O, CPG and Supply Chain sectors. Drouin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration in International Finance, Marketing and Management from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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Real Estate

Greybrook Realty Partners & Marlin Spring Brand Jointly Owned Asset Manager – Greyspring Apartments

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TORONTO, Dec. 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Greybrook Realty Partners and Marlin Spring are pleased to announce the new branding of their jointly owned investment and asset management firm, Greyspring Apartments. With a portfolio of more than 2,000 units and CAD$375 million in assets under management, Greyspring Apartments is focused on the acquisition and repositioning of multi-family assets throughout Canada.

The new name and branding is an important step in Greyspring’s evolution as an independent operating business. Formed in 2018 by long standing-partners Marlin Spring and Greybrook Realty Partners, Greyspring Apartments was established with the goal of building a leading asset management firm with a robust portfolio of residential rental real estate assets in primary and secondary markets across Canada.

Greyspring’s talented team of real estate, asset management and finance professionals is overseen and guided by the Management Board, whose members include Benjamin Bakst, CEO, Marlin Spring; Elliot Kazarnovksy, CFO, Marlin Spring; Sasha Cucuz, CEO, Greybrook Securities Inc.; Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Chris Salapoutis, President & COO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Ashi Mathur, President, Marlin Spring; and Karl Brady. In addition to his role on the Management Board, Karl Brady leads Greyspring Apartments as its President. 

“We are pleased to announce the official name and branding of a business we formed with our partners at Marlin Spring a few years ago,” said Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners. “Greyspring has been diligently focused on the execution of strategic value-add programs across its portfolio that are improving the quality of housing for tenants and overall asset values. For Greybrook investors, expanding from our core business in real estate development to the value-add space through Greyspring, has allowed us to provide our clients with investment opportunities that diversify their real estate investment portfolios.”

“Marlin Spring and Greybrook have partnered on many residential real estate projects in recent years,” said Benjamin Bakst, CEO and Cofounder, Marlin Spring. “To a great extent, Greyspring illustrates our approach to partnerships. We believe in, and strive for, responsible growth through deepening our relationships with our trusted partners. With Greyspring, we’ve formalized our focus on providing better and more affordable living experiences for Canadians. This vision aligns with our mission to deliver exceptional real estate value to all our stakeholders with an uncompromising adherence to our core values.”

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