Health tech startups have had a profile boost during the pandemic, causing round sizes ball and pushing their combined value in Europe to over $41 billion.
A silent sub-sector is dental technology, where developments in AI, biotechnology, software and 3D printing are disrupting the $64 billion industry. Progress is slow, but with the help of startups and scale-ups, dentistry is steadily digitizing.
“In general, orthodontists and dentists are very conservative, so they would like to control everything manually,” says Vladimir Lupenko, CEO and co-founder of orthodontic startup Impress. “But the industry is changing dramatically.”
So what does the industry look like in Europe right now? We analyzed the data and spoke with the experts about what reassures them in the sector.
1. Filling the void: 17% of dental startups and scale-ups worldwide are in Europe
According to data from Dealroom, 17% of dental startups and scale-ups are headquartered in Europe. The continent is home to nearly 10% of the world’s population.
Alessandro Dentoni is founder and CEO of Osteocom, a dental learning platform he describes as “Netflix for dentists” – dental professionals can take online courses on topics such as treating respiratory disorders related to sleep or dental extractions. He says dentistry in the EU and UK is ready for disruption.
“In the EU and UK we have over 370,000 dentists and the sector is ripe for disruption from multiple sources,” he told Sifted. “In addition to scientific improvements in equipment and treatments, technology can also facilitate the continued education of dentists, learning new techniques and skills.”
Impress describes itself as the “largest orthodontic player as a chain of clinics in Europe” – they have 120 clinics in eight countries.
“In the EU and UK we have over 370,000 dentists and the industry is ready to be disrupted”
Lupenko says the startup was founded to digitize the processes in which a person could get aligners to straighten their teeth. The Impress solution involves an initial consultation with a 3D scan, treatment planning with software and 3D model simulations, and scans performed with a mobile phone to assess treatment progress using machine learning. This reduces the number of physical visits a person has to make.
“We started our activities about three years ago and we decided to enter the orthodontic industry by shaking up the organization of the treatment process,” he explains.
But, adds Lupenko, we won’t be replacing human dentists anytime soon: “We’ve started building a hybrid model. The main bottleneck is that it is still a medical procedure and without the proper involvement of the doctor/dentist it cannot be done properly. »
2. Put money where you want it
Among dental startups in Europe, there is a unicorn – Paris-based DentalMonitoring, the world’s first dental software company to hit a $1 billion valuation.
Another dental software startup is UK-based smart dental app Toothfairy, which has raised a £3 million tour last September. In 2021, Impress raised $50 million in its Series A, which at the time was the largest joint Series A in Catalonia.
The app’s chief executive and co-founder, Deepak Singh Aulak, who is also a former dentist, says dentists, in general, have been receptive to digital tools, but investor education has always been lacking.
“Dentistry is broken and no one has been able to fix it,” he says. “We just oversubscribed £3m round last year and there was a lot of education going on. We were educating many investors on how dentistry can be digitized. »
Thomas Serval, co-founder and chief executive of French smart toothbrush company Kolibree, says the VC community in Europe isn’t as active as in the US or China when it comes to teeth, however. exception of medical devices which attract specialized VCs.
“Dentistry is broken and no one has been able to fix it”
He adds that the public sector also lacks funding for preventive dental care solutions: “There is a lot of interest in the dental space in Europe, but prevention is really underfunded and not sufficiently taken into account by the most decision makers How can I put a price tag on you not getting something you could have?
3. 3D printing has teeth
One dentistry market set to see mega growth is dental 3D printing, which market research estimates will increase by more than 20% in the next five years. The Journal of Clinical Orthodontics calls 3D printing a “paradigm shift” for the field.
One use case for 3D printing is the production of transparent tooth aligners, which Lupenko says account for up to 25% of all medical devices in the dental technology industry.
“It’s a practical medical device,” he says. “Compared to suspenders, it’s transparent, it’s removable.”
Lupenko adds that other areas of the dental technology sector are doing well, including machine learning and biotech/deeptech.
“We have companies that are building dental monitoring solutions and remote patient monitoring solutions using machine learning tools and we have a number of high tech startups that are developing technology in diagnostics he says.
Adam Christie is CEO of dental tech startup CALCiViS, which is developing a biotech solution that can visualize tooth decay early. He says the startup has conducted three clinical studies, has sought US approval, and aims to roll out its product in 2024.
“We have an imaging system that incorporates a biological imaging agent and that biological imaging agent reacts with calcium ions to produce light,” Christie explains. “If you have a healthy tooth surface, we don’t get any light from that tooth surface, and if you have ongoing active decay, we see that activity.”
While CALCiViS fills a gap in the market, according to Christie, there is room for startups to do more.
“Most innovation still seems to happen in large companies,” he says. “Most R&D still takes place in large companies, even if their R&D expenditures relative to the pharmaceutical and biotech industry are modest as a percentage of sales.”
4. The Root of the Problem: Dental Anxiety
For Singh Aulak, a huge problem in dentistry is that many people are afraid of dentists.
“Four out of ten patients suffer from dental anxiety, and more than a million days are missed each year due to dental issues,” he says. “It’s a huge problem that just keeps getting worse.”
Technology, like that of Impress, that enables remote problem solving can be a lifesaver, as well as technology like virtual reality (VR). Studies show that virtual reality in medicine significantly reduces the patient’s perception of pain and improves their overall experience.
Singh Aulak says access to treatment is so important because many dental problems are preventable and can indicate other health issues.
“A lot of dental problems are preventable, a lot of them are inherited from bad decisions, rather than passed on genetically,” he says. “It’s definitely not the sexiest and prettiest area, but it’s actually the one that’s super exciting for everyone.”
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The first chain of clinics in Europe is revolutionizing invisible orthodontics