Afraid of going to the dentist? Does the thought of getting a root canal fill your heart with dread? If so, you’re not alone. Even though the American Dental Association recommends that some people visit the dentist multiple times a year, only half of adults in the U.S. do. One of the main reasons cited for this failure? Fear.
Tend, a new dentistry startup hoping to inject life into an old-fashioned industry, aims to reduce that fear. On October 1st, the company announced that it raised a $37 million Series B round that will help it make going to the dentist a positive, maybe even fun, experience.
“[Dentistry] is just outdated and a bit broken, and I think we’ve all lived it,” says John Lyman, a partner at GV. “[Tend] has a different approach.” GV led the round alongside investors Tiger Global and Good Friends, which brings Tend’s total funding to $73 million.
Like One Medical did for primary care and Warby Parker did for vision, Tend is focused on creating direct-to-consumer dentistry with an air of hospitality it says makes it stand apart from regular dentists’ offices (both One Medical and Warby Parker have invested in Tend). Despite the fact that it’s almost a $140 billion dollar market, the dentistry industry has seen “very little innovation,” says Tend CEO and cofounder Doug Hudson. “I was just blown away that no one had created a consumer brand for dentistry.”
While there are other dentistry startups, most are focused on oral hygiene products (for example, quip’s electric toothbrush) or corporate clients (like mobile dentistry Henry). Tend is one of the only companies actually reimagining in-office dental care. When you make an appointment at Tend, Hudson says, the company not only asks for your insurance information but also what Netflix shows you want to watch during your visit, what flavor of toothpaste you want your dentist to use, and even what aromatherapy scent you would like pumped into the room. The drills that the dentists use are quieter to reduce anxiety, and the company even reformulated its gum anesthetic to make it taste better. Hudson, who was the former CEO of teledentistry company SmileDirectClub, says he wanted to eliminate the negative feelings associated with going to the dentist, and play up the positive feelings. “I’ve always been drawn to categories that are kind of stodgy and stale and reinventing it with the patient in mind.”
Tend was cofounded by Hudson along with Andy Grover and Michael Stenclick in October 2019. Since then, the company has opened five dental offices (they call them “studios”) in New York City, two of which just opened over the summer. All of the offices were forced to close in March at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, when preventive dental services weren’t considered essential. Two months later the company was able to reopen and now takes in-person and virtual appointments. “Dentistry is a vital service, it was then and it is now,” says Chief Marketing Officer Matthew Fitzgerald, “we will not close again.” Fitzgerald reports that in 2019 the company’s revenue exceeded $5 million, though it is not yet profitable. Since reopening, he says, revenue has recovered more than 150%.
Hudson says the company plans to use the new capital to expand to new cities. First up: Boston and Washington D.C. There are also plans to hire more dentists, which work for Tend exclusively and earn a fixed rate with bonuses for patient satisfaction. Tend is also planning to launch a suite of branded oral hygiene products next year, including toothpaste, mouthwash and other products. Hudson says the goal is to eventually have customers interfacing with the Tend brand every single day. “Tend is the word that we want you to think of when it comes to anything relating to your mouth.”