Melissa Juried Kriebel
Our mouths are most definitely part of our bodies, but you might not know it based on how dentistry works in the United States. Your doctor can probably do about as much to address your oral health as your dentist can do for the rest of your body: not much. It can be hard to find a dentist—and expensive to visit one—which leaves many Americans without access to the oral care they need.
One company is trying to make it easier and cheaper to access dental care—and they’re getting help from an influx of venture capital to do it.
Today, dental startup Flossy announced it has raised $14.7 million in Series A funding, bringing its total venture funding to date to $17.8 million. The current investment round is led by TTV Capital with participation from Slow Ventures, 8VC, Clocktower Technology Ventures, among others.
Flossy operates a pay-as-you-go model, where consumers pay for services as they use them, without a sign-up or membership fee. Patients can use Flossy to find a dentist and schedule their appointments. Consumers also get up to 50% savings compared to the cash-pay price. Flossy delivers those savings by negotiating directly with a curated network of dentists and offering discounted rates similar to those an insurance company would pay. Flossy uses those savings to offer patients reduced rates.
“Because of the inefficiencies with the way healthcare works broadly, the retail price and the actual price are never the same,” said Flossy co-founder and CEO Miles Beckett. “But it is hard for the average consumer to get to that real negotiated rate.”
Co-founder Steve Siegel said the level of savings Flossy achieves is meaningful to patients with serious dental needs such as crowns and root canals.
“If we can get someone [a] $1,200 procedure for $600, that’s the difference for our demographic a lot of times in terms of even getting that procedure to begin with,” Siegel said.
Right now, access to dental care may be especially important. A survey conducted by Delta Dental Plans Association in March 2022 showed that 94% of adults planned to visit the dentist this year. That figure likely reflects pent-up demand due to deferred maintenance during the pandemic. Smaller issues that people have put off may no longer be avoidable.
Access to dental care has long been a pain point for millions of Americans.
Americans spent approximately $53 billion out-of-pocket on dental care in 2020.
While 91% of people in the United States have health insurance to help them pay for healthcare expenses—leaving 28 million uninsured—an estimated 76 million Americans have no dental insurance.
Access is even worse for older Americans. Nearly half of people on Medicare have no dental coverage and the same proportion report not having had a dental visit in the past year.
Financial burdens create real barriers to oral healthcare. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 35% of people reported delaying or skipping dental care because of cost, more than any other type of service.
“Your only options are really paying expensive out-of-pocket [costs or] buying dental insurance where the policies are capped and don’t really cover much,” Siegel said.
Beckett, a surgeon by training, thought he was done with healthcare forever when he quit medicine. He liked operating and doing academic research but was frustrated with the healthcare system. He felt like he was a cog within that system.
But he got excited about opportunities for digital health to reduce healthcare inefficiencies, and returned to the field through the business side.
He and Siegel started and sold another company and then began investing in other digital health startups. They kept coming back to dental care and how people pay for it, but they didn’t see any solutions in the marketplace.
“It just felt like an area that was extremely underserved by technology and there really hadn’t been a lot of innovation,” Beckett said. “If you look at the percentage of people booking hotels or flights online, it’s like 90%. But half of people still get dental referrals from a friend, which can be good but it’s not the most efficient process.”
The team knew they were onto something as soon as they launched. The day Flossy launched a beta test in Phoenix, it got a booking on the first night, right after they went live. That first patient booked an appointment for 9:00 a.m. the next morning.
“We had immediate traction,” Beckett said. “And it’s been consistently good ever since.”
Though investments in digital health startups has slowed in 2022 compared to 2021, several oral care startups have attracted investor interest. Many such companies focus on products, from vegan oral care products and oral microbiome home tests to new toothbrushes and cosmetic aligners. Tend, which raised $37 million in 2020, bucks this trend, focusing on remaking dentistry practice and patients’ in-office patient experience.
Flossy will use its new funds to broaden its footprint, expanding from its operations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Michigan across the Midwest and into the Northeast. Ultimately, they hope to operate nationwide.