There seem to be tons of teeth aligners—invisible braces that straighten teeth—currently on the market. What makes new startup Uniform Teeth’s aligners different from the rest?
Black Enterprise caught up with co-founder Henry Stewart to find out why they felt the need to start the company and how tech and customer experience gives them a unique value proposition allowing them to stand out from the competition.
Tell us about your background.
My high school alma mater, University School of Milwaukee, was rare in that it offered programming courses all four years. I went to Dartmouth College and studied computer science. After graduating from Dartmouth, I came to the San Francisco Bay Area to realize my passion for business and technology.
Why did you decide to start Uniform?
I was working as a software consultant for startups and entrepreneurs in the Bay Area when I met Dr. Kjeld Aamodt, a UCSF Dental School faculty member and a top San Francisco orthodontist. He shared how the orthodontic market would be changing in the coming years. Kjeld and I saw a unique opportunity and outlined a vision for a tech-enabled orthodontic company which has evolved into Uniform.
How does it compare to other clear aligner companies like Invisalign?
Uniform is quite different. Treatment with Uniform is the highest level of orthodontic care. First, every patient visits our office for a complete dental examination by a licensed orthodontist. During the initial visit, a panoramic X-ray of the lower cranium plus a full-mouth 3D scan of the teeth are taken and evaluated. This part of the process is unique among the new aligner practices and is important for making sure patients have no serious issues such as infection, root canal, or jaw structure issues that could become worse if not identified upfront.
For example, a recent new patient was surprised to learn from her scan that she had a tooth infection and needed a root canal. Had she simply been molded for plastic aligners, she would almost certainly have lost one or two teeth.
Uniform’s model uses only clear, plastic aligners. They straighten teeth quite quickly, in an average of around six months. Some players in the space may offer a cheaper product, but they don’t give patients the proper level of professional support throughout the course of treatment and cut corners in patient outcomes.
What’s the biggest misconception about the service?
People looking to fix their teeth think that Uniform is like all the other companies offering a new, less expensive way to do it. Having a licensed, professional orthodontist managing every case sets Uniform apart. Some in-person visits are required for superior patient outcomes.
What are three things that people should know who are considering going through the process?
1. Cost should not be the only objective factor when considering treatment. The standards your dental professional maintains should be weighted appropriately. Uniform uses the Index of Complexity Outcome and Need (ICON) as our standard. Every one of our graduated patients has achieved a significant improvement grade on the ICON index. (An international team of orthodontists developed this objective scoring system to grade the quality of the results achieved after orthodontic treatment.)
2. Aesthetics of your teeth are important. But, whiter, straighter teeth do not necessarily mean a healthier smile. Uniform straightens your teeth and improves your bite. Without proper orthodontist supervision, a patient might have a nice smile but teeth on one side of your mouth might not be touching. Bite issues can wear teeth down, cause jaw pain, and require surgery to correct. Uniform doesn’t allow that to happen.
3. Uniform is committed to orthodontics as a profession. Our technology is meant to enhance the work of a professional. Dr. Gerald Nelson, Professor at UCSF and former editor of the American Journal of Orthodontics says that “an orthodontic specialist supervising each patient’s care is a crucial part of treatment with clear aligners to ensure the patient has the best possible outcome and doesn’t risk serious consequences, such as gum or tooth loss.”
How does tech facilitate the alignment process?
In several important ways. Leveraging mobile technology allows us to keep close track of patients. Instead of having to go to an orthodontist’s office for many short visits—which can be inconvenient to patients with busy schedules—our process has fewer, more meaningful visits.
Before the first visit, a patient downloads the Uniform mobile app, enters their dental and medical history, and uploads photos of their smile and facial bone structure. This is reviewed before they come into the office. During the initial visit, they get a panoramic scan and 3-D imaging to confirm what type of work needs to be done. Our CAD/CAM systems stitch all this imagery together to improve diagnostics and create a precise treatment plan.
Once a patient gets their aligners, the Uniform EMR (Electronic Medical Record) scheduling algorithm tracks their progress and alerts our Care Team on their progress. The patient checks in each week using the app. This is especially useful when a patient has a question or if an issue presents for which they need to be seen in person.