Investors bet on orthodontist-led digital clear aligner therapy
HONG KONG, China: Recent developments in Hong Kong have shown support for both sides of the debate surrounding clear aligner treatment. The Chinese financial services group Ping An Insurance has led a funding round for Berlin-based PlusDental, which offers tooth alignment in Europe through a digital platform that is supported by local dentists. Hong Kong’s leading health and beauty retailer Watsons, meanwhile, has partnered with US-based direct-to-consumer provider SmileDirectClub (SDC) by allowing it to operate SmileShops within its Hong Kong retail locations.
PlusDental turned heads in October 2019 by shifting its business model from remote treatment to one centred around cooperation with local orthodontists. At the time, the company had 32 partner dental practices across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This number has since more than doubled to 70, and the company now also operates in Great Britain and Spain. Having secured €32 million (HK$277 million) in funding from a number of backers, PlusDental now plans to further develop its digital dentistry platform and continue to expand in Europe, Ping An said in a press release.
It is understandable that Ping An is the leading backer, as the group is one of the world’s largest financial services companies and healthcare and virtual solutions are two of its key interests. The group’s investment in PlusDental came through its Hong Kong-based Global Voyager Fund, which has already invested around US$300 million (HK$2.3 billion) in emerging health technology companies across Europe, Asia and North America.
Pin An affirmed that PlusDental achieves first-class medical treatment results through its cooperation with local dentists. “The entire therapy process is fully digitalised, from appointment to 3D treatment plan; from follow-up checks to billing,” it said.
“We hold the belief that medical responsibility belongs in the hands of specialised and professionally trained registered dentists”
–Dr Peter Baumgart, Managing Director, PlusDental
In a separate statement, co-founder and Managing Director Dr Peter Baumgart mapped out his plans for PlusDental, which include continuing to work closely with orthodontists and boosting Germany’s status as a centre for innovation in dentistry in Europe.
“We have set out to take Germany’s world-leading dentistry to a digital level and to make it the go-to, state-of-the-art technology. We hold the belief that medical responsibility belongs in the hands of specialised and professionally trained registered dentists. Therefore, we are proud to be able to provide the digital infrastructure here and believe that both dentists and patients will benefit from digital dentistry. The current pandemic underlines the importance of digitalisation, especially in the field of dentistry,” Baumgart said.
Patients are not the only ones who stand to benefit from the orthodontist-led treatment: partner practices are acquiring new patient groups, Baumgart added. More information is available on the company’s website.
SmileDirectClub aims to expand in Asia
SDC said that the first step in its partnership with Watsons would be the opening of two SmileShops at Watsons locations in the Hong Kong districts Mong Kok and Kwun Tong.
“Our partnership with Watsons Hong Kong is built on a mutual commitment to provide a premium and affordable experience,” Kay Oswald, SDC’s president of international business, said in a statement. “With Watsons’ extensive network in Hong Kong, we are delighted to provide greater access to teeth straightening and enable customers to transform their smiles in a convenient way, without compromising top-level service from our affiliated network of dentists and orthodontists.”
SDC said that Hong Kong consumers would be offered the same retail concept as those who visit its flagship stores and retail partners in the US, Canada and Australia, but did not specify whether this would include its line of oral care products that are currently available at Walmart stores in the US.
SDC entered the Hong Kong market in January and is interested in gaining a presence in more of Watsons’ 250 stores that are located across the Hong Kong and Macau territories. The company operates around 7,800 stores across 13 Asian markets—more than 1,500 of which are pharmacies—and is also a leading health and beauty retailer in Ukraine.