Tend wants you to reimagine the dentist.
The New York startup opened two Boston-area offices in December in Post Office Square and Kendall Square, catering to patients tired of the fading walls and months-old magazines typically found in a dentist’s office.
Instead, the heavily funded company is focused on creating a boutique experience with an air of hospitality. Cofounder Andy Grover said that may be enough to convince some people to at least get their teeth cleaned twice a year. Up to 75 percent of Americans deal with some kind of anxiety about going to the dentist, according to Dental Fear Central, a site that provides tips to fight “dental phobia.”
“The dental experience hasn’t changed in decades,” Grover said. “For the most part, going to the dentist in 2021 feels like going to the dentist in 1981, or maybe even 1961. We’ve modernized it and added some tech to make it a place you’ll look forward to visiting.”
In the chair, services are mostly the same as those offered at a standard practice. Tend ― which accepts most insurance plans ― provides exams, emergency care, and procedures such as whitening, veneers, crowns, and implants. Staff X-ray patients’ mouths, fill cavities, and perform root canals.
But Matt Fitzgerald, Tend’s chief marketing officer, said the company adds a dose of ease and enjoyment to the process, before and after. “People are used to a modern, tech-enabled experience in every other aspect of their lives,” he added. “Now, it’s here.”
The tech isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s slick and convenient.
For example, Tend records are digitized instead of printed out. And appointments can be booked via phone, online, or on the Tend app, which tracks health records and upcoming appointments. (It also sells $100 Soothsonic electric toothbrushes, $7.50 dog breath biscuits, and a $55 Swishy Swirly Counter Cup. “Own a piece of the Tend experience,” the app urges.)
In the suite, a TV greets patients by name before they sit. Then they can saddle on noise-canceling Beats headphones and watch a show of their choosing, projected on another screen on the ceiling. Grover prefers “The Great British Bake-Off.”
Dentists use quieter drills to reduce anxiety, and toothpastes are offered in a variety of flavors such as vanilla mint and watermelon. Tend even re-formulated gum anesthetics to taste better. Plus, sensitive conversations about finances are sequestered to “The Den,” a small room with gray chairs, rather than taking place at the receptionist’s desk.
The staff works in two shifts to accommodate longer operating hours, Fitzgerald said, with dentists and hygienists being paid a fixed rate and bonuses for patient satisfaction.
“A lot of people have a phobia of the dentist and don’t go as a result,” he added. “If you’re excited to come, the outcome will likely be better.”
Most dentistry startups, such as Henry or quip, have focused on oral hygiene products or mobile services. Tend has found some success since its founding in October 2019 by opening 20 studios in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and New York City. Revenue has grown 400 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to a company spokesman. In April, it raised $125 million in funding.
Tend declined to provide details about how many people had booked appointments at its two Boston locations so far, though it said the wait list prior to opening exceeded 3,000.
The offices are doused in the sleek millennial aesthetic often associated with direct-to-consumer brands such One Medical for primary care, Warby Parker for vision, and Titan Caskets for coffins. Think sea foam green furniture, light wood finishes, and a photo of a smiling woman elegantly brushing her teeth, at the entrance.
Patients in Post Office Square are also welcomed by hexagonal tile floors with a floss-like pattern and marbled end tables with a design resembling soapy water. Then there’s “The Brushery,” where patients can tidy up ahead of their appointment in front of a white-light “Brush Buff” sign.
“Ideal selfie lighting,” Fitzgerald said.
It’s unclear what Tend and other dentistry startups mean for the future of private practice. (Tend plans to expand to the West Coast in 2022.)
But Boston, Grover said, “is ready for this new world of dentistry.”