'The Zoom Effect' Is Fueling a Wave of Dental Procedures. InBrace is Cashing In.

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

'The Zoom Effect' Is Fueling a Wave of Dental Procedures. InBrace is Cashing In.
Photo by Enis Yavuz on Unsplash

People are assessing their smile after the pandemic moved meetings online and forced workers to stare at themselves for hours on end as they chat with colleagues.

Orthodontists and the American Association of Orthodontics say that's what's partially behind the 92.5% surge of orthodontics patients. Many are asking for teeth-straightening treatments. They call it the "Zoom Effect."

Orthodontist John Pham sees the cosmetic appeal of teeth straightening. He thinks it will become as commonplace among the well-heeled, body conscious set as Botox or CoolSculpting treatment. Pham founded InBrace, an Irvine-based orthodontic company that was originally his thesis as an orthodontist at USC. His startup announced Wednesday it raised $102 million in a Series D round.

It's one of many startups in the surprisingly competitive orthodontics space dominated by clear teeth aligners and lingual braces, which go on the back of teeth but it often costs more than aligners or traditional braces.

"Lingual braces are regular braces put on the inside (or behind the teeth)," said Pham. "So they took something bad and made it worse."

InBrace's smartwire InBrace's "smartwire" dental brace.

InBrace works differently. The company puts braces on the back of the teeth too, but uses a "smartwire" made out of nitinol, material different from the metal usually associated with braces. The nitinol remembers its original shape and returns to it after being manipulated -- kind of like a stretched slinky bouncing back into shape. The smartwire aligns teeth over time using gentle pressure.

The market has long been dominated by Align Technology (makers of Invisalign) and Smile Direct Club. Aligners have often been used as an alternative to traditional braces that sit at the front of the teeth due to their low profile aesthetic. The pandemic has only bolstered their popularity, as direct-to-consumer companies have boomed.

\u200bInBrace CEO and co-founder John Pham

InBrace CEO and co-founder John Pham

But teeth straightening is not just a cosmetic procedure - the process involves understanding and observing facial bones and jawbones to make sure the person undergoing treatment isn't being harmed, and cosmetic teeth straightening can lead to an open bite where the back teeth don't align and cause chewing problems, or even loss of teeth. The AAO has long been wary of direct-to-consumer teeth-straightening companies, emphasizing that check ups and proper monitoring are necessary for dental health.

"They can't fix their teeth with a selfie. Any patient at any age, should be wary of quick-fix claims," said Dr. Ken Dillehay, AAO president in an email. "While the convenience of DTC/DIY [direct-to-consumer/do-it-yourself] may sound tempting, convenience should not come at the risk of patient health and well-being by bypassing important patient protections."

Clients are matched to an orthodontist through InBrace, and the orthodontist takes a scan of the inside of the person's mouth for the company to use as a model to develop a treatment plan. After the orthodontist implements it, patients come in every two to three months for checkups, but there is rarely a need to adjust and no need to tighten the braces.

InBrace said the price is comparable to regular braces or aligners - the treatment runs $4,000 to $6,000 before insurance.

A 12-month treatment with braces or aligners would take 3 months with its product. The company says it uses significantly less pressure to move the teeth than aligners and braces, which use the most pressure when they are first put in or adjusted, and then quickly lose pressure over time. Pham said teeth don't need a lot of pressure to move, and most peoples' teeth realign after braces simply because of tongue pressure.

"This is known in orthodontics: heavy forces actually move teeth more inefficiently because it impedes the blood flow to your teeth," Pham said.

The oversubscribed Series D is more than the company made in its previous funding rounds combined, and the company is using that money to build its sales force and marketing department to grow its base of hundreds of orthodontists around the country who offer this treatment.


Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups
March Capital founder Jamie Montgomery. Illustration by Dilara Mundy.

Santa Monica-based venture outfit March Capital announced Feb. 3 that it raised its largest fund to date, a $650 million investment vehicle that will be used to back up to 15 startups focused on delivering new uses of artificial intelligence.

Read moreShow less

The Three Best Ways to Work With Your Startup Board

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

The Three Best Ways to Work With Your Startup Board

When launching and running a startup, your board of directors is one of your most valuable assets. If you already understand why you need a board and how to structure your board, it may be tempting to think you can cross that item off the list. But building a board is just the beginning. Now you’ve got to get down to business—together.

Read moreShow less

This Week in ‘Raises’: Saviynt Lands $205M, Pagos Secures $34M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Saviynt Lands $205M, Pagos Secures $34M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

While it was a slow week of funding in Los Angeles, security vendor Saviynt managed to score $205 million that will be used to meet the company’s growing demand for its converged identity platform and accelerate innovation.

Read moreShow less