Shahid Akhter, editor, ETHealthworld, spoke to Vikram Vora, CEO, Sabka Dentist, to understand the surge in demand for clear aligners and how it is poised to become one of the largest dental services businesses in the country.
Oral Health: Preventive Care
Preventive care is very important from an oral health perspective. In India, generally, preventive care is ignored. Our surveys indicate that an average Indian goes to the dentist 3 or 4 times in a lifetime, which compared to countries like the UK and the US is as high as 1.2 to 1.3 times a year. And from that perspective, there’s a lot to be done there.
Dentistry at Home
Dentistry being provided at home is something that has been promoted by a lot of companies lately, which is something that needs to be addressed and checked. While it is a convenience that a patient will receive, there have to be certain rules and regulations that determine what can be provided at home and what cannot be. There are certain treatments that just should not be provided outside of the clinical environment, and definitely not by people who are not trained to do that. Hence, it is very important that there be regulations that monitor the dentistry provided at home, scans provided at home, or diagnosis that is done at home by companies or dentists anywhere in India.
Dentistry: Covid Impact
The COVID pandemic has also changed the way people look at dentistry and the way it is practised in the country. Covid impacted dentistry like most other industries, but in a very large way. So, we were the first ones—dentists were the first ones to shut shop. Because unlike most other areas of medicine or medical science, dentistry requires you to access a person’s mouth, which was the point at which the infection was spreading. Also, we use a lot of air in the clinics, and so aerosols were being created, and hence the government had also immediately issued a mandate to shut dental clinics as soon as they came to know about the pandemic. And due to this, the industry was impacted at large. A lot of treatment was stalled and kept pending across the country, and hence the overall health situation also got impacted. While most of it has come back to normal, the industry went through a great deal of turmoil. A lot of people have updated their sterilisation standards. The good part, or the blessing in disguise, of COVID was that those standards that people incorporated because of the infection have now been institutionalized. They are here to stay. They will stay as permanent standards forever, and hence most hygiene practises have improved over the last 2 years in all clinics and the industry at large.
Clear Aligners: Trends
In the last 3 years, one aspect of dentistry that has really grown as far as the overall dental services business is concerned is the story about clear aligners. Clear aligners are very easy and straight forward way to do braces treatment which earlier used to be difficult, used to be time consuming, used to be painful. But clear aligners have changed all that. Right now, it is projected to have a very high growth rate in India. Across the world, most markets have shown billion-dollar companies coming up as aligner providers in both the UK and the USA and in Europe, and a large amount of private equity money is being invested in this industry. India has opened up to that just in the last two years. It is a big story that is coming up over the next 4 to 5 years. A lot of aligner companies are going to come up, and it’s going to be one of the largest dental services businesses in the country for a very long time to come.
We operate a dental services business called Sabka Dentist. Sabka Dentist started way back in 2010 as a dental services company that has set up dental clinics that were put out to democratise dental services. And by democratizing, we mean we are providing affordable, accessible, and available dental services to the population. We want to give dental treatment that is at an affordable cost, easy to get and which is with of the best quality that is available in the country. We started with five to seven clinics in the first year and kept growing.
Over the last ten years, we moved from a small company of around five clinics, four to five dentists, and 10 to 15 people. Today, more than 100 clinics are spread across multiple cities in India, providing every possible treatment that a dental clinic can provide. Over the years, we have developed a lot of capabilities that have grown in terms of our technical expertise, our capability from a business perspective, and our capability from a clinical perspective. Our doctors have been trained by the best institutes and organisations across the world. We have invested a lot of money over the years in our doctors, in our facilities, and in our treatment protocols, and we will continue to do so in order to ensure that we are able to provide the best services that are possible in the country today.
Sabka Dentist: Clear aligners
In the clear aligners space Sabka Dentist has started its operations over the last 2 years. We started clear aligners somewhere around 2011 with a large company and now are making our own aligners since 2020. In clear aligners we have 2 brands We have SDalign, which is our own brand and is provided at Sabka Dentist clinics, and then we have Odonto aligners, which are provided at our partner clinics.
Both the aligners are self-manufactured; they are designed and developed by our own orthodontists. They are qualified experienced orthodontists trained on 3D design and development of dental software and they are very knowledgeable in the domain of orthodontics so you get the correct treatment even though the process of Orthodontics has changed over time from traditional braces to clear aligners. Our aligners are made using high-quality PETG sheets. We only operate with BPA-free sheets, which we source from the best vendors in the market, and our processes are all ISO 13485 certified. This ensures that, end to end, each and every aligner is checked and correctly designed as per the treatment plan, which ensures that our treatment quality is far superior to most other competitors that we are currently competing with in the market.
Also, we believe that clear aligners need to be provided by a dentist in a dental clinic. So it’s not just the aligners that need to be delivered; it’s an entire treatment. There are a lot of companies that provide clear aligners at home, so the patient does not have to come to the clinic at all. Now we are a company that believes that it’s a holistic treatment. It’s not just providing aligners, it’s about correcting a person smile, it’s about correcting the teeth alignment. It requires sometimes supplementary treatments like fillings, like scaling like cleaning the teeth, like making some treatments on the gums in order to ensure that the teeth stay healthy while you go through the aligner treatment. And this needs to be done and monitored across the entire length of the treatment, which could be one year long. And hence if you are associated with the dental clinic, if you are getting the treatment done at a dental clinic by a qualified dentist, the quality of the treatment and hence the outcome of the treatment is far superior. So, we only provide clear aligners at clinics within clinical environments by our dentists only. We do not go and provide it at home. The basic reason is that we believe that it is a holistic treatment and requires a 360-degree view of dentistry.