DOWNTOWN — Overdue on a tooth cleaning or a cavity filling or a crown?

The Santa Monica-based company Brighter, the brainchild of Jake Winebaum, CEO and founder, launched a new website last month (www.brighter.com) that offers accessible and affordable dental care for uninsured customers.

“[Dental care is] at the core of your health. If you don’t take care of your health it can lead to other problems,” Winebaum said. “We need this, [it's] a great model for healthcare over time.”

In an era of high co-pays and deductibles for dental care, Brighter.com is a free one-stop shop for customers who don’t have dental insurance and even those who think their dental coverage is too high.

The website, which focuses on the Los Angeles area, now boasts thousands of customers, more than 500 dentists in Los Angeles, and 13 dentists in Santa Monica who use the website, he said.

Located at Fifth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, the company employs 25.

Brighter.com doesn’t take any personal information or e-mails, but prospective customers put in their zipcode to find a dentist. The company also offers searches on dentures, implants, extractions and root canals and more. Prospective patients are introduced to dentists in online videos, office photos, educational backgrounds and even Yelp reviews and ratings. The customer makes an appointment and it is confirmed by Brighter.com.

The website also covers cosmetic procedures such as whitening, veneers or braces.

There is a 100 percent money back guarantee, Winebaum said.

Dentist Peter Pham checks his examination room's equipment earlier this week at his office on Santa Monica Boulevard. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

Dentist Peter Pham checks his examination room’s equipment earlier this week at his office on Santa Monica Boulevard. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

The website has a more direct approach to billing — customers pay the dentist directly — thereby cutting out the insurance companies who have to process payments, bill patients and file claims. That helps keep costs low, Winebaum said.

Dentists have an incentive to join the website because it’s bringing patients who otherwise might not have gotten dental procedures or been able to afford dental care. They aren’t paid less through the website, but about the same as being paid by insurance.

“It gives people affordability and the second reason is fewer costs,” Winebaum said.

The average savings on the appointments, to date, against the price of walking in off the street is more than 50 percent, he said.

For example, a comprehensive exam, full series of X-rays, regular cleaning for an adult and cavity filling cost $234 compared to an average price of $458, according to the website.

“The price is comparable, in many cases lower than what you would pay with insurance,” Winebaum said. “On preventative care, which is cleaning, X-rays and exam for initial visit, it’s 70 percent.”

The idea came to Winebaum during a dinner at his in-laws’ house three years ago. A $7,500 dental visit by his father-in-law spurred Winebaum to found a website that clearly tells customers the price they will pay for dental procedures before they sit in the dentist chair.

Purchasing dental care would be similar to purchasing a television or car. “You do the research in advance and you know what it will cost you,” he said.

“I couldn’t find any pricing information on dental procedures and I found [my father-in-law] was by no means alone. Forty-seven percent of Angelenos don’t have dental insurance,” he said. “They have to buy dental care without any price transparency or coverage.”

Dentist Peter Pham signed up with Brighter.com two months ago. Pham recently opened up his own practice, Meridien Dental on Santa Monica Boulevard, and was looking for ways to get new patients.

“When it comes to finding patients for a dental office, there are a couple of different avenues, either you can go the Internet route or join some insurance networks or do direct mail,” he said. “All of those things have their costs and benefits.”

He said with Brighter.com there is less administrative cost and paperwork.

Santa Monica resident Andy Jen, one of Pham’s patients, was sitting at a restaurant and saw a news piece on the website. Jen, who doesn’t have dental insurance, booked an appointment and got a check up, cleaning and X-ray package for $109. After that, he got a more extensive cleaning.

“I’ve had dental insurance in the past,” Jen said. “It’s always been a little bit of a mystery how much things cost and how much I’m going to be paying for it.”

When the company first launched three years ago, members paid an annual fee to access the group buying benefits, Winebaum said.

“Our initial model was too similar [to] insurance and was not disruptive enough. Why should you need to pay to access care at affordable prices?” he said.

It had also partnered with a third-party, which had a pre-existing network of dentists in most major cities in the country, Winebaum said.

“The pitfall we encountered was our inability to vet the dentists ourselves to ensure quality for our members,” Winebaum said. “With that, we decided to build our own network of physicians, starting here in Los Angeles.”

Brighter.com has plans to expand across California in the later part of this year, Winebaum said.

 

 

ameera@smdp.com