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LightForce Picks Up $80M As More Funds Flow To Straighter Teeth

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Orthodontics may be the most effective route to a better smile. But few people grin at the idea of visiting the orthodontist.

The most common treatment, braces, are famously uncomfortable. The associated consultations and follow-up visits require copious amounts of time and money. And desired outcomes aren’t guaranteed.

Thus, it’s not entirely surprising to see startups focused on improving the orthodontics experience raising sizable sums of venture capital. The most recent recipient, LightForce Orthodontics, a maker of personalized 3D-printed braces, announced an $80 million Series D round today led by Ally Bridge Group.

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The round brings total funding to date for Burlington, Massachusetts-based LightForce to more than $150 million. Founded in 2015, the company is on a mission “to change the world of stock braces,” per its CEO and founder Alfred Griffin III.

Where the money is going in orthodontics

LightForce is one of several orthodontics-focused companies funded in the past few quarters. Using Crunchbase data, we put together a sample list of 12 venture- and private equity-backed companies that have collectively raised over $1.4 billion:

With the exception of Smile Doctors, a national network of orthodontist practices that picked up $550 million in private equity funding in July, most companies have a digital technology focus. Broadly, they’re working on software-enabled technologies that can help reduce in-person visits and provide more customized treatments.

Certainty LightForce fits into that category. In tandem with its latest funding, the company is building out a 36,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to 3D-print custom braces for its largely adolescent customer base. Griffin said that its custom braces allow both reduced overall treatment time and fewer orthodontist visits.

Another heavily funded company in the space, Paris-based Dental Monitoring, has raised more than $230 million to date for its software-focused approach. The company employs AI to help practices analyze dental images, including those taken by smartphones.

Impress, based in Barcelona, has also raised significant funding. The company, which closed on a $125 million Series B last year, offers clear aligners and orthodontic services, with a mix of check-ins via app and in-person clinic visits.

Back in the U.S., meanwhile, Memphis-based uLab Systems is another dental upstart on the AI bandwagon. The company offers software that automatically segments the teeth and uses artificial intelligence to create a baseline treatment plan.

Giving orthodontics patients more to smile about

Orthodontics, lest anyone forget, represents a rather large addressable market. Each year, more than 20 million patients globally begin orthodontic treatments, per LightForce. Of those, roughly two-thirds are teenagers, and most will need braces costing several thousand dollars.

There are prospects for sharp growth too, given that there is a larger multiple of people worldwide who would benefit from braces but don’t have access or means to get them. Still others might opt to pursue straighter teeth if orthodontic treatment were faster, more comfortable and had higher success rates.

Also notably, while investor interest in orthodontic technology looks robust, they’re backing startups looking to augment orthodontists, not replace them. While AI might help design your braces, they’re not looking to put them on you.

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