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Electric toothbrush maker Quip gets into pay-as-you-go dental care

It's only available in NYC for now.

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Quip, the electric toothbrush company that seemingly sponsors every podcast, is expanding into dental care. The company has launched Quipcare, a free app that lets patients book pay-as-you-go dental services like teeth cleanings, check-ups, fillings and X-rays. Quipcare is intended as an alternative for those who don't have dental insurance, or who have hit their coverage limit.

Patients browse, book and pay for dental services directly on the Quipcare app. Prices are quoted up-front, and patients are spared from navigating the terms of their dental insurance plan. Dental professionals who partner with Quip as a part of their network provide the services, and the company claims that the costs are 30 to 40 percent lower than average rates in the area. Customers who pay for Quipcare+, which is $25 per month, get access to a wide range of dental services included (such as a comprehensive exam, two teeth cleanings a year and preventative X-rays). Currently, Quipcare is only available in New York City, but the company hopes to roll out nationwide in the US in 2020.

Quip CEO and co-founder Simon Enever claims that both uninsured and insured Americans aren't getting the dental care they need. "One quarter of Americans don't have dental insurance," he said in a statement. "One third of those with insurance haven't visited their dentist in over a year. Whether insured or not, people aren't getting the professional care they need. The reasons why are multiple: People view dental care and insurance costs as unclear and expensive, the process of booking and paying for care inconvenient, and the experience of visiting a dentist often an unenjoyable or sometimes feared experience."

Indeed, visiting the dentist's office is a luxury for an increasing number of people: Nearly 72 million Americans had no dental insurance in 2017, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. Among those with dental benefits, an estimated 90 percent receive it through their employer. Young people, senior citizens and those living in poverty are more likely to neglect dental care or seek treatment only in an emergency.

And unlike healthcare, the federal government has few options for dental. Medicare provides no dental option unless you opt for a privately-run Medicare Advantage plan. Meanwhile, dental plans under Medicaid tend to be pretty basic -- and some states only provide emergency services. But forgoing professional dental care could add to bigger, more expensive problems down the line. For example, the price of an uninsured root canal costs roughly $1,500.

A number of online dental services have emerged over the years to meet the needs of the uninsured or are an alternative to traditional dental insurance. Services like Floss Bar accept health insurance but also let patients book pay-as-you appointments on their app. Level, a new dental care startup aimed at employers, lets employees pay for dental services a la carte through the app.

While Quipcare's services are still priced lower than what the services would cost you out-of-pocket (based on average prices in NYC), they're certainly not cheap. If you opt not to pay $25 per month for Quipcare+, a comprehensive check-up booked on Quipcare can set you back $295 (compared to an average rate of $530). Fillings start at $175, crowns start at $1,030 and root canals start at $840 -- none of which are covered by Quipcare+. But initial sticker shock aside, one advantage of Quipcare is that prices are quoted up-front and don't vary by provider. Many dental clinics don't inform patients of costs until after a procedure, and prices for services can range widely. Those of us who have walked out of a dentist's office with a mouth full of fillings and a surprise bill equal to one month's rent can certainly relate.

Quip hopes to expand Quipcare by partnering with both large and small dental groups and providing more services for patients. The company hopes to provide more plans and payment options in the future, as well as cater to both individuals and employers. Currently, Quipcare's offerings for dental care are pretty standard; patients can book everything from a routine teeth cleaning to a fitting for dentures. Patients who desire cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening or orthodontia should look elsewhere. But if you're in a bind and need a cavity filled, Quipcare is certainly worth a look.

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