An arthritic elderly woman has a decaying tooth which not only causes a toothache from time to time but could also lead to inflammation that worsens her arthritic pain. But she keeps putting off a visit to the dentist.
You know you need periodic deep cleaning of your teeth to remove plaque and tartar. Otherwise it can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and worse. Oral bacteria have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. And yet, something always crops up to put off that dentist visit.
These are familiar scenarios. Now a dentist and an entrepreneur in India have got together to solve this problem. They have developed a portable dental kit – complete with a foldable, lightweight dentist’s chair – which a dentist can pack into a car for a home visit. They call it a “dental clinic in a suitcase.”
They call it a dental clinic in a suitcase.
Their startup MobiDent today announced a pre-series A funding round of an undisclosed amount from New York-based DanGold Investment Corp.
One of the founders is a dental surgeon with 25 years in private practice in Bangalore – Devaiah Mapangada. His co-founder and CEO is Vivek Madappa, who is a serial entrepreneur with three startups under his belt. Apart from MobiDent, another company he is currently running is Humming Bird, which provides business travel services to large corporations.
Dental bus to dentist’s chair in a box
Dr. Devaiah – as he is known – opened a clinic on Brigade Road in the heart of Bangalore in 1991. He tells Tech in Asia that even back then, he used to make home visits for simple dental procedures in the Richmond Town residential area which had a high number of senior citizens.
Then, at the turn of the millennium, he took a two-year course in specialized geriatric care in Switzerland. At the end of it, his professor at the University of Zurich urged him to adapt what he had learned to India.
These ideas remained dormant – except for occasional entries in his diary – until 2007, when a patient took four hours to reach his clinic. Traffic jams had become an everyday affair in Bangalore.
It got Dr. Devaiah thinking seriously about taking dental care to people in their homes and offices. He conducted surveys which found clear evidence of the need for it – among the elderly as well as busy techies and parents with young kids.
He bought the chassis of a bus with six wheels and built a dental clinic on it.
Finally, in 2011, he took the plunge. He bought the chassis of a bus with six wheels, built a clinic on it with two traditional dentist’s chairs with all their paraphernalia, and took it to schools, tech parks, and residential areas. He even trained and qualified for a heavy vehicle driving license so that he could drive the bus himself if the driver didn’t show up.
One day, his dental bus was parked near a large office building with 600 people who had expressed an interest. But only 12 people came to the bus. He found out that the others didn’t want to come down 12 floors and walk a kilometer in the middle of an office day.
So now he wanted a portable dental kit, not just a mobile clinic. The main problem to solve was the dentist’s chair. It had to be strong enough to hold a patient firm, attachable to a compressor for the drill and other gadgets, and yet be light enough to carry.
He worked with the same engineer who had built the dental bus and had his portable kit by 2014. It used light steel for the foldable, reclinable frame, and weighed around 25 kg. With hollow rods instead of solid ones, he has now brought that down to 12 kg. The whole kit weighs less than 15 kg. The next version will again halve that weight by using carbon fiber instead of steel.
Dr. Devaiah also got together with entrepreneur Vivek Madappa in 2014 to rope in more dentists and build MobiDent. Last year, it was funded and incubated at IIM Ahmedabad’s center for entrepreneurship and got an award from the Royal Academy of Engineering, London.
Accessible and affordable
Apart from home and office visits on call, MobiDent provides annual and half-yearly plans for periodic dental care. Thirty-three dentists are on the portal, which has been available in Bangalore, Mysore, Ahmedabad, and Pune. The funding aims to scale it up to 250 dentists and expand the service to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and Hyderabad in three months.
Dr. Devaiah says the bulk of the calls on MobiDent are for preventive and cosmetic dental care, but geriatric care remains an important element. Just today, when I was chatting with him, a team was going out to do a tooth extraction at home for an elderly lady in a wheelchair.
The traditional model of health care delivered at hospitals and clinics is not sustainable.
Apart from making dental care more accessible, it also makes it affordable. The portable dental kit costs INR 75,000-350,000 (US$104-5150) depending on the associated equipment. That is less than a quarter of the cost of a traditional dental clinic, not to speak of the saving in real estate expenditure.
“The traditional model of health care delivered only at hospitals and clinics is not economically sustainable,” adds Vivek Madappa.
Many well-qualified dentists are unable to afford their own clinics, and hospitals are scarce too. Although 30,000 dentists graduate in India each year, most of them work for years as apprentices to their seniors or move on to other fields. At the same time, the dentist to population ratio is an abysmal 1:40,000, according to WHO.
This is the mismatch MobiDent aims to remove. It plans to hire 3,000 dentists over the next three years and equip them with portable kits for house calls. You won’t have to put off that dentist visit anymore. Just call one home with his chair tucked in his suitcase.
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