SoftSmile is a mission-driven company. Our ultimate goal is quite simple: to make aligner treatments affordable and accessible. Yet, for most people, these are just corporate promises. As the founder and CEO of SoftSmile, I want to explain what is truly behind those words. I could give you the facts, like the percentage of people who require some sort of orthodontic treatment (over 60%), or how many people can afford aligners (barely over 5%), or even the potential global market of aligners (over 1 trillion USD) but, instead, I’ll tell you a story.
I have a friend. Let’s say that her name is Annie, she is 35 years old and has decided to fulfill her longtime dream of having a perfect smile. Moreover, her doctor suggested that the misalignment of her jaws could be causing her recent headaches. After some research, she is faced with only two options:
A well-known and respected brand of clear aligners with treatment supervised by a doctor, which costs a fortune; or
One of the new direct-to-consumers options, which are a bit cheaper, but doesn't include direct supervision from a doctor and has a poor track record with complex cases
Annie decides not to pursue aligner treatment because she’s frightened by the high prices and risks involved with treatment that don’t include a doctor’s direct supervision. We all have friends and relatives like Annie, who would love to get a beautiful and healthy smile but are unable to visit an orthodontist because the cost of aligners is often prohibitive for millions and millions of people. According to our research, over 130 million people in the USA can’t afford orthodontic treatment.
Unlike smartphones and computers, which were once expensive but have now become more accessible and affordable, aligners always have been costly. These costs were justifiable 20 years ago, at the dawn of breakthroughs in 3D printing and robotics, but today anyone can buy a 3D printer. So the technological progress is there, but it has not translated into increased affordability of aligners. While cell phones and laptops have become more affordable in the past 20 years, plastic pieces that fit over your teeth are as expensive as ever.
The reason for this is simple: lack of competition leads to higher prices. The paradox is that in the last twenty years, various elements of aligners production went through innovations and progress: new 3D printers and thermoforming machines, multiple types of plastic, 3D scans, and different software solutions became more affordable.
So why don’t we see new global brands or established dental companies breaking into the lucrative aligners business?
Only one key reason - the core element of any treatment - a digital planning, which remains a well-protected and challenging secret to crack. Only a handful of companies that have high-quality treatment planners can manage the large-scale production of aligners and ensure that the actual aligners treatment will achieve the desired result for patients. Hence, aligners, which are a commodity after all, remain among the most expensive medical devices.
Thus far, the only successful way to reduce the cost of aligners was not achieved through genuine technological innovation, but rather through a new business model that simply cuts doctors out of the treatment process. The current model doesn’t improve access or affordability. It is not right and it shall be changed. SoftSmile is committed to bringing equity to the orthodontic market.
In order to fulfill our mission to make orthodontic aligner treatments affordable and accessible, SoftSmile has focused on doctors and their needs. We know that teeth and jaws are intricate and that any treatment needs to be performed under the supervision of experienced doctors. So we started our journey with this question: what would a doctor need to offer someone like Annie a more affordable solution without compromising the quality of the treatment?
The key equation for achieving perfect smiles is: doctor + treatment planning + manufacturing.
While there are various options to ensure high-quality manufacturing of aligners, access to treatment planning is scarce. We know that if we build a state-of-the-art treatment planner and address the issues that doctors, technicians, manufacturers, and patients face every day, we can transform the entire industry.
Our approach is two-fold: (i) to build the most intuitive and user-friendly software while ensuring total precision, accuracy, and ability to handle the most complex cases and (ii) to create an ecosystem around our treatment planner so that doctors and patients would have more options to choose from for aligner treatments. VISION, which is the software at the core of our ambitious plans, automates most routine tasks, ensures absolute precision, and gives a user a full set of necessary tools for successful treatment by aligners. Further, as VISION accumulates more data, the AI incorporated in the software will begin evolving making the whole process even more automated and precise.
SoftSmile works with sole practitioners and global dental champions; we partner with producers of 3D printers and producers of plastic necessary for aligners. As a result, our customers can enjoy the full power of SoftSmile’s network and make sure that they have the most tailored practice. Most importantly, this ecosystem makes sure that any doctor or patient in any part of the world can access the best treatment planner, manufacturing, or equipment.
Our endgame is that if Annie from Phoenix, Maryam from Baghdad, Fred from Stockholm, or any other person in any part of the world visits their doctor, they will have a new and optimal option for treatment by aligners:
- a doctor prepares a treatment plan or requests design from any third party, including SoftSmile; then
- aligners are manufactured by one of the trusted partners of SoftSmile or by the doctor themself; and
- the overall cost for the patient is manageable.
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