Everyone has teeth. Yet more than one-third of Americans do not have dental health coverage. That’s a big risk for the part of their body responsible for biting, chewing, talking, and more. Alex Frommeyer saw this problem as an opportunity, creating Beam Dental, of which he is co-founder and CEO. His company has changed the way dental insurance policies are defined, helping insurance rates go down while dental health goes up, thanks in part to Beam’s smart toothbrush. Here’s more on how connecting our brushing habits to the Internet is bringing the dental healthcare industry into the future.
How did you get the idea for Beam Dental and the beam brush?
About four years ago, my colleagues and I started an R&D services business, where we had the chance to work on all kinds of medical devices. Around that time, we received a contract from a dental manufacturing company that opened our eyes to the dental industry. We discovered that while there were plenty of startups out there helping build and evolve healthcare, almost nobody was doing the same for the dental industry. So we decided to go after this corner of the healthcare market.
It turns out that only two out of every three Americans have dental insurance coverage. Why is that?
Primarily because it’s commoditized! For any insurance company, it’s always difficult to scope out the right kind of policy rates for the actual need. You try to get as much data and context as possible to make a good match, but there’s always a bit of guess work. This was particularly the case with dental insurance and often meant expensive rates for the kind of coverage people could get, especially in individual or family policies. Those without an employer offering dental benefits are today mostly left out of the market.
Our solution: provide policy holders with a connected toothbrush that operates like any other electric toothbrush, but also collects behavioral data and sends to a mobile device via Bluetooth. This data helps us build a better picture of the likelihood of future claims and volume, helping us adjust policy rates based on good brushing behaviors. A connected toothbrush gives us an advantage when identifying how to insure our customers, especially when compared to our competitors. Over time, we expect to lower dental premiums because we can become more accurate in our predictions. The better you care for your teeth, the lower your premiums.
We created our own smart toothbrush, along with replacement heads, toothpaste, and floss. Every one of our members gets enrolled into our Beam Perks program that ships them the beamâ brush, and replenishes a supply of brush heads, toothpaste, and floss every three months.
The point of this program is to show how much we care about prevention. We don’t just tell people to brush their teeth; we’ve investing in everything needed for our members to practice good dental care. We know that by providing these goods, and encouraging the preventative care, we can change long-term behavior for the better, and ultimately create better dental health over time.
What’s really exciting is that our data is showing us that we ARE affecting behavior in a positive way. Our users are brushing their teeth almost two minutes per brushing on average. Every dentist wishes their patients would brush even just one minute per brushing, and our users are doubling that. They are brushing longer and more frequently by a factor of almost two.
How did you go about designing the beam brush?
First off, we had to figure out how to manufacture this product within our economics of selling insurance plans. The more plans we sold, the more toothbrushes we have to make, leaving an extremely small margin of error for cost of goods.
For our design requirements, I feel like we looked at everything: performance, size, power, cost; everything went through the ringer. Once we decided on Bluetooth for communication, the Silicon Labs BLE112 started to stand out. It met all of our technical requirements and the module was pre-certified, which is a major time and cost saver when trying to bring a product to market in the healthcare industry. And while cost was a big driver for us, so was performance. With a Silicon Labs Bluetooth Smart Module, we could do some of the processing on the module itself, accomplishing tasks at the board level. On top of all that, this had to be a battery powered device, so power consumption management was key.
You’ve certainly found a perfect application for a smart IoT device. In your opinion, what does the future of IoT look like?
There is still so much ground to cover. If IoT is going to be a homerun, we haven't even made it to first base yet. There are exciting things happening: machine learning, quantum computing, wireless, renewables. All these things are converging thanks to small, high performance, low-powered, connected sensors and devices. That opens up tons of new opportunities.
The toothbrush is one of the most common consumer products in existence. When we started a few years ago, something like the beamâ brush was just barely financially possible to produce. Today, there are an increasing number of compelling connected product. And in five years, I’m sure there will be new capabilities we can’t predict yet. There's no telling where that will take us.