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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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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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