They’re not fun by any stretch of the imagination, but getting braces is a rite of passage for many teenagers. While this hasn’t changed for many years, neither has the technology used to make them. But venture-backed startup LightForce Orthodontics, which makes what it calls the “world’s first and only” customized 3D printed orthodontic bracket system, has just completed a $14 million Series B funding round, which will help the company continue to develop its digital platform and product offerings.
LightForce uses 3D printing to provide orthodontic patients with total personalization, since no one’s jaw, mouth, or teeth are the same as someone else’s. The startup’s technology helps create custom braces by 3D printing brackets that fit each individual tooth, which can mean less time spent wearing braces and fewer appointments to the orthodontist for those hated adjustments—something even more important during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Braces haven’t changed in fifty years yet are by far the most common treatment tool; aligners are esthetic and patient-specific, but because of patient compliance and biomechanical limitations, they only serve a small fraction of our patients today,” stated LightForce CEO Dr. Alfred Griffin III, DMD, PhD, MMSc, who co-founded the startup with Dr. Lou Shuman, formerly of Invisalign. “This opportunity to help patients and orthodontists was why we applied modern 3D software and ‘mass-customization’ to what we know today as ‘braces.’ We’ve seen LightForce provide shorter treatment times, fewer appointments, and an overall more efficient experience for patients and doctors. In the last year our business has doubled every quarter, and that tells me that LightForce has pinpointed a true need within the orthodontic space. We look forward to growing with our investors, partners and the orthodontic community to provide the best experience and outcomes for our patients.”
Wearing braces that are one-size-fits-all just doesn’t cut it anymore. But with the integrated LightForce platform, orthodontists can deliver customization by creating a unique bracket system for each patient. The process starts by sending a scan of the patient’s teeth and treatment plan to LightForce technicians. Then, the team prints the personalized brackets out of a ceramic material which, while extremely similar to what’s used when making injection molded brackets, is actually formulated specifically for 3D printing. Finally, LightForce sends everything back to the customer’s practice, where the orthodontist can then bond the 3D printed brackets to the patient’s teeth using ergonomic, 3D printed trays.
“From the initial patient scan to devising a custom treatment plan, LightForce’s platform allows our practice to scale predictably, while improving outcomes for our patients,” stated Dr. Mazyar Moshiri, DMD, MS, a pioneer in the field of digital orthodontics and a LightForce customer. “With LightForce’s technology, we are able to offer fully customized, fixed appliances for each individual’s specific needs in order to provide the best treatment option for every patient.”
According to a press release, LightForce’s technology “elevates the standard for precision and efficiency for today’s orthodontic appliances.” It offers a selection of orthodontic products to meet the needs of all patients:
- Cloud Brackets: white 3D printed ceramic, polycrystalline alumina brackets for braces
- LightPlan proprietary treatment software: provides clinicians a simple cloud-based interface to use for adjustments, so they have control over the entire treatment plan
- LightTray: 3D printed indirect bonding (IBD) trays designed using seven 3D algorithms in order to optimize bonding accuracy and clinical user experience
- TurboTrays: 3D printed trays to help with patient’s bite correction
The Series B funding round was led by Tyche Partners, with follow-on investments from both AM Ventures and Matrix Partners. In addition to developing its technology further and increasing its offerings, LightForce will also use the funds to scale its operations to meet the growing demand for “more efficient dental technologies.” As we’ve seen numerous times, 3D printing can definitely deliver in this case.
“We’re always looking for visionary entrepreneurs utilizing the latest cutting-edge technologies to transform and revolutionize industries,” said Weiji Yun, Managing Partner at Tyche Partners. “Alfred and Lou’s inspirational vision offered us an opportunity to expand our 3D-printing investment portfolio and the company’s rapid growth is proof that the industry is primed for a solution that improves the orthodontic experience for patients and doctors alike. We are pleased to partner with such an impressive team of doctors and engineers and contribute to LightForce’s success.”
As demonstrated by companies like Invisalign and Smile Direct Club, aligners thermoformed with custom, 3D printed molds have been one of 3D printing’s killer apps for mass customization and series production. However, as materials improve, we will see these types of products made directly with 3D printing, something that LightForce is already beginning to demonstrate. This will, in turn, drive what could be an immense opportunity for custom 3D printed dental solutions, particularly as automation is further introduced into the workflows for these products. The Additive Manufacturing in Dentistry 2019: An Opportunity Analysis and Ten-year Forecast from SmarTech projects that, by 2022, 500 million dental devices and restorations will be produced annually via additive manufacturing. In other words, LightForce’s investors may be making a good bet.
Orthodontists who are interested in LightForce’s technology can contact the company here.
(Source/Images: LightForce Orthodontics)
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