The tens of millions of Americans who have at least one missing tooth have a few options. They can have the traditional bridge put in, have an implant put in, or do nothing.
Despite the physical and health consequences associated with missing teeth, many people do nothing because of the cost or fear of restorative procedures. During a bridge procedure, the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth are shaved down, and a false tooth is connected to crowns that fit over those two teeth. Implants, meanwhile, have become increasingly popular because they don’t damage the surrounding teeth. But the drawback is they are more invasive and must be implanted during a surgical procedure where the dentist drills into the jawbone, meaning they also cost more.
Making that procedure simpler and more cost effective for general practice dentists is what Dr. Chan Wang set out to do when she became an entrepreneur.
In her years as a clinic dentist and maxillofacial surgeon in China and the U.S., the Zuga Medical founder and CEO developed processes and components that simplify dental implants so that general dentists (rather than specialists) can perform them at about the cost of putting in a bridge.
Zuga’s product portfolio consists of its Biothread titanium implants and Dentim restoration system that are used with tools that dentists are already familiar with. A user-friendly kit includes sets of both products along with a pre-programmed drill unit.
A soft launch of the products will begin in January as five to 10 local dentists will perform 50 implants using the tools and procedure, CFO Howard Becker said. After evaluating and tweaking, the company should be ready to launch nationally in July, he said.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland startup is in the middle of a $1.5 million Series A round of financing with angel investors.
Currently only 10 percent of all U.S. dentists place implants, but that number is growing as new technologies like Zuga’s make it easier for general practice dentists to do the procedure, according to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. While implants are generally preferred over bridges, the high cost of capital equipment and training have impeded quicker adoption by GPs, according to Millennium Research Group.
Millennium estimates that the dental implants and prosthetics market is expected to grow nearly 10 percent annually through 2016, driven by an aging patient population and GP adoption of implant procedures. Nobel Biocare, Zimmer, Dentsply International, Straumann, Ivoclar Vivadent and Biomet 3i are competitors in the implant space.
Wang, who owns a dental clinic in East Cleveland, founded Zuga company in 2006. Earlier this year, the startup received $100,000 from the Innovation Fund.
[Photo from Zuga Medical]