Beam offers rewards and incentives to those who maintain good oral hygiene. (Wikimedia Commons)
Like most dentists, Shaun Rotenberg, who practices in Columbus, Ohio, sees a full spectrum of patients. Some are hyper-vigilant about flossing and brushing their teeth, while others avoid trips to the dentist like the plague.
But until recently, there hasn't been a way to reward the patients who take care of their teeth and are less likely to need costly dental work in the long-term. Dental-related emergency room visits are on the rise in the United States, which contributes to health care cost increases.
This week, a startup insurance company, in Rotenberg's city of Columbus, called Beam Dental introduced a new nationwide program to reward people for good behavior (if avoiding gum disease, chipped teeth and cavities wasn't reward enough).
"I have dentists in my family, and noticed a real lack of innovation in the industry," said Alex Frommeyer, Beam Dental's founder and CEO.
Those who sign up to the program through their employer collect "stars," which can be traded in for prizes and incentives, such as cash back. According to Frommeyer, the company may soon offer lower insurance premiums to those who take care of their teeth.
With its insurance product, Beam competes with some of the largest dental plans in the country, including Delta Dental and MetLife. But the team sees plenty of opportunities to reach the 40 percent of Americans who forgo dental coverage.
Frommeyer declined to disclose how much the Beam plan costs, even an average number, as quotes vary from state to state. But he claims it is typically cheaper for employers than other plans due to Beam's lack of bureaucracy, overhead and its focus on software automation.
For now, Beam's insurance isn't available for individuals to select through a state or federal exchange.
But let's be real, most of us have lied to the dentist about how frequently we floss. What's stopping Beam's members from pretending they take care of their teeth in order to access rewards?
Well, Beam's first product, its sonic-powered "smart" toothbrush and floss, serves as a tracking system of sorts. Its sensors monitor how long you brush your teeth and for how often -- so don't even try to cheat!
The brush will then report the data to the Beam iPhone and Android app, which notifies you if you've stopped brushing too early -- dental lore is a full two minutes -- or if you've missed a spot in one of those hard to reach areas.
According to Frommeyer, the data is already showing improvements. Two out of three brushing events with the Beam brush are over two minutes, he said, and the average frequency is 1.75 times per day.
The smart toothbrush brush costs $5 per person per month, and includes toothpaste, floss and shipments of replacement brush heads. If your employer signs up to Beam, it costs just $3 a month.
Shaun Rotenberg, our dentist from Columbus, has recommended the connected-toothbrush to many of his teen and twenty-something patients.
"It's great for my patients who love apps and are glued to a smartphone," he said. "Really I'll try anything that will get my patients to care about their oral hygiene."
Beam's plan to provide cash back to those who regularly brush their teeth is not unlike new rewards programs from medical insurance companies. Oscar Health, a health insurer based in New York, recently partnered with Misfit, a Bay Area wearables company known for its jewel-like step-tracking devices. Those who stay physically active can get an Amazon $20 gift card.
Frommeyer said this kind of approach makes a lot more sense when applied to oral care.
"Data from an activity tracker, like a Fitbit or Misfit has some impact on your overall health," he said. "But if you're caring for your teeth on a day to day basis, the relative impact is much greater."
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