This Pune-based dental-tech startup is bringing the dentist to your smartphone
For an average Indian citizen, oral hygiene is limited to brushing teeth twice a day, despite multiple oral care products, including floss and mouthwashes, widely available in the country.
Dental surgeon Dr Vidhi Bhanushali and her husband Rajat Kabade, while discussing a similar issue, realised that they could detect dental diseases early and prevent their severity by leveraging technology.
The husband-wife duo — who always relied on technology to solve problems — from looking for advanced research to learning new techniques — started Pune-basedin 2018 as a blog.
“We learned that India has a surplus of dentists, yet we rank lowest in terms of oral health — something that directly corresponds to our terrible overall health. We identified that the major reason for this is a lack of awareness about one's oral health and the correlation between oral health and general health,” Vidhi, Co-founder, DentalDost, tells YourStory.
A tech platform for oral hygiene
Vidhi and Rajat decided to expand their blog DentalDost into an AI-powered dentist by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
They also launched a 24x7 helpline to better understand their patients’ problems in order to diagnose their oral diseases.
“When a patient comes to the DentalDost platform, we offer free teleconsultation or consultation through the app. A treatment profile is created for the patient, and we refer him to the nearest partner clinic for treatment,” Vidhi explains.
After studying the audience that consumed the platform’s content on dental care and helping patients that called on the helpline, the duo realised that they need to create technology to help patients self identify and diagnose signs of dental diseases.
Eventually, the duo ended up building their proprietary ML model, trained with an image dataset to accurately detect oral diseases.
How does it work
“We started exploring various ways to implement AI and ML to help patients diagnose oral diseases. The first step was to create a dataset of intra-oral images. We invested a year working with medical universities and dental clinics across India and collected a dataset of 30,000 images,” says Vidhi.
She adds the 24x7 dental helpline is manned by skilled dentists, who are on a full-time payroll of DentalDost. These dentists are trained in teledentistry and can understand and explain oral issues over a phone call.
Patients are asked to upload their intra-oral images on the app, where the ML technology pre-assesses and the dentist verifies the ML-analysed results.
Post this, the DentalDost team gets in touch with the patients and helps them understand the various treatment options. In case the patient does not need clinical treatment, they provide them with home remedies and tell them how to prevent future issues.
The ML model is a combination of multiple convolutional neural networks, which converts the uploaded images into a format understood by the machine, and cross-checked against the trained dataset, arriving at a prognosis.
DentalDost has been delivering teledentistry before the COVID-19 pandemic began. With the help of its app, the dental-tech startup helps patients look after their oral health from the comfort of their homes.
From diagnosing a cavity in the tooth to jaw joint issues, orthodontic treatments like braces, to recently creating awareness around early signs of mucormycosis or “black fungus” — DentalDost guides patients every step of the way.
“In this second COVID-19 wave, we’ve been advocating for postponing and managing non-emergency treatments as we realised it was too risky to tell patients to step out in the middle of a pandemic,” says Vidhi.
In fact, the startup’s team of dental experts help patients understand which problems and treatments take priority, Vidhi says.
She adds, “We’ve made it our responsibility to help people treat, reduce, or manage oral issues that can wait until the worst of the second wave is over through our app, blogs, social media, and helpline.”
The Pune-based startup has 18 employees, including six dentists.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the recommended dentists to population ratio globally is 1:7500. However, in India, it is 1:5000. Moreover, only 12.4 percent of Indians avail treatment for their oral issues.
Amidst COVID-19, several healthtech startups such as Practo, mFine, and more recently, Eka.Care, are providing teleconsultation services. However, DentalDost does not work as a listing platform or aggregator; it differentiates itself as an online ‘dentist.’
The startup competes with, , and , among others in India.
The co-founders had bootstrapped DentalDost with about Rs 22 lakh from their funds. In September 2020, the Pune startup raised a seed round of Rs 30 lakh.
With the funding round, Amit Dakhane onboarded as an investor and advisor to the startup.
Revenue and future
DentalDost’s average margin is 15 percent per treatment invoice value. In a month, an average of 5,500 people visit the startup’s blog, about 8,250 individuals reach the startup through its helpline service, and nearly 761 patients opt for treatment through its partner-clinic network.
While the startup refused to share how much it charges its users, it claims that it clocks Rs 12.8 lakh revenue, with an average margin of 12 percent.
Since January 2021, it is reaching over 52 new patients every day. In fact, it has onboarded over 114 dental partners, and its ML model disease detection accuracy is now at 67 percent.
Speaking of the startup’s future plans, Vidhi says, “The topmost priority for DentalDost app is to achieve up to 98 percent of accuracy through the ML model. We have chalked out a roadmap, which will take us another six months to get there. We are working on creating a 3D model of a person’s jaw and smile. This will help us simulate post-treatment appearance on the patient’s smartphone.”
The startup also aims to expand its internal dental team to all major Tier II and III cities. It is also looking at adding more Indian languages.
The co-founders also aim to launch DentalDost in the South Asian market with the right channel partnership.