Over the past few years, we have seen long-standing industries with their entrenched processes disrupted by upstart companies determined to take their valuable service and approach it from a different angle.  Netflix has taken the booming home video industry and offered a new way to watch on-demand, at one low, monthly cost.  Airbnb has turned the hospitality industry on its ear, making it possible for anyone to be the proprietor of their own little slice of vacation heaven – and in the process, the reasonable prices have provided more people than ever with the opportunity to explore our world.  What do these examples have in common?  They have removed the barriers of cost and availability.  Simply put, they have given consumers access.

I would argue that one can disrupt nearly any industry by opening it to new and different avenues of access.  In fact, I have seen this happen in my own field, as well – dentistry.

I have dedicated my life to smiles.  I am a dentist, focused on cosmetic and artistic smile restoration, having spent nearly twenty years putting the most beautiful smiles on the most famous and successful people in the world.  My experience gives me a unique perspective in this regard.  Why do my patients have million-dollar smiles?  The answer may seem obvious – they have million-dollar smiles because they can afford million-dollar treatment (ok, maybe not a million dollars, but you get the picture).  If we look deeper, however, we find that money buys them something more than treatment. Their wealth and celebrity actually provide them access to first-class treatment that would not otherwise be available to them.  

But what if people without the same advantages could be given access to similar types of care?  A healthy and radiant smile brings with it confidence and improved self-esteem.  Shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to experience those things?  Today, advances in technology and innovative systems of delivery are making that possible for more people than ever before.

According to the American Dental Association, 59% of adults report forgoing dental care due to cost.  Industry statistics indicate that of the 164 million Americans with private dental insurance, about 90% obtain coverage through an employer or another group organization, leaving low-income individuals and families to sacrifice dental care due to lack of coverage.  In fact, in 2016, 74 million Americans had no dental coverage at all.  With copays, fees, and even gas and parking – going to the dentist can be costly enough to put up barriers for many to overcome.  Although people find many reasons not to visit a dentist, “[t]he most apparent reason is financial barriers, with one study finding that one out of five individuals are unable to afford needed dental care.”

Of course, costs can be measured in more than just dollars.  Appointments are time-consuming, can require people to miss work, and even create challenges with childcare – all of which compound the impact on even middle-class families with dental coverage. 

Furthermore, affordability is not the only issue.  As Mary Otto points out in her book “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America”, forty-nine million people live in so-called “dental professional shortage areas”, where even low-income Americans who have their dental costs covered under public programs like Medicaid, have difficulty even finding a provider available in their area.

No wonder many people consider dental care a luxury.

So, is it crazy to think there can be another way?  

Where the traditional model has failed to address these challenges, new companies have stepped in to offer a new approach.  Enter, the disruptors!

One of the best examples of this in dentistry is the growing market for invisible aligners.  Traditionally, orthodontic treatments have been very expensive (not to mention the bane of many a teenager’s existence – usually defining that “awkward phase”).  According to Authority Dental, without insurance, the cost of braces can cost upwards of $8000. Advancements in technology have created new techniques to provide orthodontic services, but at a fraction of the cost.  Today, companies like SmileDirectClub and my own company, byte, are also sending low-cost treatment kits directly to consumers at home, eliminating the need for patient visits altogether.  And being “invisible” (and removable), gone are the days where young people must suffer the nickname “brace face”!

Disruption comes in different forms, as well. Where some companies focus on bite correction only, byte provides a system that not only straightens teeth, but improves the overall smile, giving customers access to the confidence that comes with looking and feeling like the best version of oneself.

Redefining corporate culture as a force for good by giving back to the community is another way that corporations are innovating on traditional business models and shaping them for positive change.  Tom’s Shoes, for example, has giving back to the community built into their DNA, providing a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair sold.  Our own byteCares initiative helps provide our already low-cost aligners to people who cannot afford any type of dental care.  By aligning our values and corporate culture with a focus on philanthropy, we can give the consumer a way to put their dollars toward not only something that improves their own lives, but the lives of others, as well.

No matter how long an industry has done things a certain way, new approaches to the traditional can open avenues never thought possible.  In my own field, by giving access to those who would not be able to afford it otherwise, we’re not only disrupting the field, we’re doing a small part in spreading happiness to all those who smile.