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Toothpick fills gap in dental market

TECHNATION200: Toothpick is an online dental appointment-booking service that lets patients compare dental practices and book treatments – and helps dentists manage their bookings . Co-founder Jozef Wallis tells Toni Sekinah how the platform leaves dentists and over a million patients smiling from ear to ear.

A smile is a universally understood sign of happiness but we Brits could be forgiven for looking a bit grumpy.

JozefW_ToothpickA survey by the National Smile Month campaign found that more than half of us think we have bad teeth. Yet we are also reluctant to get our teeth seen to: 27% of people will only go to the dentist if there is a problem – while 2% have never been at all.

Jozef Wallis is aiming to change that by making it easier for people to book dental appointments with online appointment startup Toothpick.

Toothpick is a two-sided platform that enables patients to compare dental practices and conveniently book appointments. At the same time Toothpick makes it easier for dentists to fill empty slots in their diaries.

Wallis explains that Toothpick gives patients access to information to choose between different practices; they can see reviews, opening times, the duration and cost of the treatments on offer and whether the practice offers NHS, private, emergency or cosmetic dentistry.

By making it easier for people to access emergency dentists, the Toothpick team estimates that the service has saved the NHS at least £1m, as fewer people are being admitting to hospital because of tooth decay.

“We’re really about making dentistry a lot more accessible and consumer friendly so we’re bringing the availability to the surface,” he says.

Toothpick’s tool allows patients to make appointments anywhere, anytime, which Wallis says his customers find really useful. Over 50% of appointments are booked outside of opening times and 60% are made via mobile.

The dentists benefit because their appointment diary is opened up to a wider pool of potential patients and it is much easier to fill a cancelled appointment.

Toothpick has a real-time feed with the diaries of the dental practices, built on PHP with HTML5 on the Zend framework.

Wallis points to the very traditional alternative marketing routes that many dentists still take – like putting notices in the window or handing out flyers in the street.

He says: “What we do is take the marketing burden away from the dental practice so they can spend more time being great dentists, spending more time with their patients providing incredibly good services.”

It’s no surprise that Wallis holds dentists in such high regard. His co-founder Sandeep Senghera is a dentist. Senghera wanted to make information about dentist availability more transparent and had the idea to develop a booking platform for emergency dentistry in central London.

Wallis says dentists are different to many other businesses because they tend to have a very small catchment area, with most having a target radius of 600m of the premises.

Wallis, who has experience in internet protocol targeting or geotargeting advertising based on the location of a household’s IP address, got involved when a friend and Toothpick investor asked him to help Senghera with market research and discovery.

Together they called 1,000 dental practices during opening hours and when only 50% picked up the phone and 40% didn’t have a website or published price information, they realised that the problem was much greater than emergency dental treatment – and much broader than central London.

“This was a national if not an international opportunity,” Wallis says. Toothpick was founded in 2011, trialled during 2012 and went live to the public in 2013.

Before morphing into its current format as a public booking platform, Wallis had to make sure that there was sufficient supply of dental appointments in the marketplace – so Toothpick built up relationships with dental practices first by offering services like recall.

Recall plugged into the dentists’ patient lists and sent email and text message reminders to patients telling them when their next appointment was due.

Within a year of being founded, sites under the Toothpick brand were operating in the US, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

The Toothpick business model is simple. Dentists pay a fee for each appointment booked through the platform. Practices can also pay £50 a month for a subscription service where Toothpick will put a booking button wherever the name of that dental practice appears on the internet.

Toothpick is proving popular among patients. Over one million people have used it to book a dental appointment at more than 3,500 dental practices. Wallis estimates that Toothpick has helped those practices to generate £22m in revenue.

These numbers will no doubt please the platform’s has high-calibre backers. The co-founders have raised two undisclosed rounds of seed funding in 2012 and 2013 from Passion Capital, EC1 Capital, Launcha and 1Seed and will be looking to raise again later this year.

While other platforms operate across several verticals covering specialists from osteopathy to podiatry, Toothpick concentrates only on dentists,” Wallis says. “We believe it’s quite a unique market, so we’re building for dentists. We’re not building for doctors and shoehorning dentists in.”

With Toothpick having such a singular focus on dentistry, the biggest challenge in the coming months will be to educate the public about oral healthcare.

“Patient education is still very low in regards to what is the NHS, how it works, how much it costs, who is eligible, how a private or cosmetic appointments can be booked online. Our challenge is to get the word out there that this service can really provide a lot of value for patients,” says Wallis.

He is also keen to improve the image of dentists who he thinks are stereotyped as mean and nasty.

“We’re working very closely with dentists to make this difference of changing perceptions. It’s not us and them, it’s us together that need to work hard to be able to change that perception in the space.”

Jozef Wallis – CV

Since 2012
Co-founder, Toothpick

Since 2009
Director, Emergency Dentist

European business development director, Digital Element

Managing director, AWS Weatherbug

Senior business development manager, MIVA

Chief operating officer, Seawest New Media

Commercial director, Seawest Technology

Founder, Rock. IT