Meet a startup building an insurance business around a connected toothbrush

June 26, 2015, 12:42 PM UTC
Courtesy of Beam Technologies

You don’t really need an Internet-connected toothbrush. Sure, it may be fun sifting through all the data it collects about how often you clean your teeth. But there’s no reason for the average person to pay extra for it. It’s purely a luxury.

But to a dental insurance company, giving connected toothbrushes to policy holders makes all the sense in the world. Knowing that your policyholders brush their teeth on the regular means they are less likely to develop cavities and other issues associated with high claims. The insurer might even be able to promote more brushing or even flossing using incentives from the app associated with the connected toothbrush.

Beam Technologies, a Columbus, Ohio. startup that introduced a connected toothbrush two years ago, is trying to become that kind of insurance company. It hopes to transform the dental insurance market by creating an insurance plan that includes giving its brush to customers to get better data and help keep premiums reasonable.

Alex Frommeyer, CEO of Beam Tehcnologies.Image courtesy of Beam Technologies
Image courtesy of Beam Technologies
Alex Frommeyer, Beam’s CEO, explains that the idea is to build a leaner insurance company using technology and data from the toothbrushes. The company also wants to provide policy holders with the essentials to keep their teeth in top shape.

To do this, Beam has developed its own line of dental floss and toothpaste that it will ship customers every quarter. “One of our fundamental beliefs is, if I am insuring you, I want you to have all access to preventative health measures,” says Frommeyer. “So if I am insuring you, I should be paying for your toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste.”

Beam’s new insurance plan, to formally debut in late August, will offer a nationwide network of 100,000 dentists, the usual coverage for X-Rays, cleanings and cavities as well as a limit on the total outlay from the insurer. Unlike many other dental insurers, the Beam policy also covers orthodontia and includes the toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

Frommeyer says the plan, which is targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, is comparable to dental insurance from other providers. But he insisted that his policies are about 10% to 25% cheaper.

In prelude to the formal launch, the Beam Group PPO has been rolled out in pilots in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. More states are planned in the next few months. Frommeyer wouldn’t disclose the number of companies signed up for the service.

Bought alone, the Beam’s battery-powered toothbrush costs $49. It is compatible only with iOS devices today, but will soon add an Android app before the official Beam Group PPO launch. A consumer downloads the Beam app and a sensors on the toothbrush send data to the app via Bluetooth radio. The toothbrush can determine how long you brush and a software update will soon add the ability to tell users where they spent the most time brushing and the pressure used. The app can then offer feedback about where the user could do a better job.

Other companies working on connected toothbrushes include Procter & Gamble, which makes the Oral-B brush, along with French firm Kolibree.

The Oral-B connected toothbrush and app.Image courtesy of Oral-B.
Courtesy of Oral-B.

Beam also offers a discount dental program called the StarCard that premiered earlier this year. Customers pay $99 to get a Beam toothbrush and the StarCard, which provides discounts on dental services for a year.

However, Beam’s focus is now on building out its business that uses data from connected brushes and from dental insurance claims that indicate the customer is going to the dentist for regular cleanings and checkups. The idea is to use the information to help build healthier dental habits.

For example, Beam could occasionally ask customers questions via the app like whether they have sensitive teeth. If so, the company could send a different toothpaste so the customer could brush longer and more comfortably. Frommeyer explains that regular brushing and dentist visits are a good indicator of healthy teeth. Anything that encourage people to take better care of their teeth can only help.

Frommeyer is also planning to use incentives like giving customers rewards for brushing twice a day and for visiting the dentist. Those rewards might include discounts or more toothbrushes for the family. Frommeyer is quick to explain that there is nothing punitive about the plan, if you don’t engage with the app or visit the dentist, your costs won’t rise.

“Nothing changes for the worse,” he said, “You still get the standard dental insurance experience whether or not you interact minimally or you become engaged. If you are engaged … we add rewards and the experience only gets better.”

While this may strike some as a privacy nightmare, it’s similar to other efforts that insurers are testing with connected devices. Just last week American Family, an insurance company, announced a partnership with Nest to provide a connected smoke detector that comes with a monthly discount on premiums for sharing data from the device.

In American Family’s case, the idea is to encourage better habits as well—engraining habits around testing smoke alarms and changing the battery. Frommeyer’s plan is a bit different in that he’s betting on both the data and futuristic toothbrush to change people’s habits.

Of course, he’s also banking on being able to build an insurance company from scratch that relies on the latest technology. Running his operations in a HIPPA-compliant cloud and building out a modern software platform are another way to cut costs, he said. Cutting down on legacy technology should speed up the process of getting customers on board and lowers operational expenses, that Frommeyer passes along to customers. Last year, Beam raised $5 million in funding from Drive Capital.

It may seem risky to build an insurance company around $49 connected toothbrush, but the power of connected devices isn’t their connectivity, it’s the new business models they can help create. Beam’s dental plan may not make a dent in the insurance market, but it’s a step in the right direction when it comes to innovating around the Internet of things.

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