Wally dental care is open at Leonard and Church

Wally, a new company that is trying to be a disruptor in the dental hygiene business, has opened a clinic — they call it a studio — at the northeast corner of Leonard and Church. Again, here I thought it was just advertising in the windows, but in fact it’s a brick-and-mortar dental care business that opened a few weeks ago, and when I walked in this week, every cubicle was filled and bustling with the sounds (and smells) of dentistry.

The company was founded in 2020 by Tyler Burnett, Stipe Latkovic, and Chelsea Patel; they raised $3 million in seed capital and opened their first clinic on the Upper East Side a year ago. The plan is to open more here in the near future. The business model is membership-based, and for $199 a year you get unlimited cleanings and whitenings, scans and x-rays. You also get in-person and virtual visits.

They accept no insurance. In fact, that is the idea — to keep any middleman operators out of the picture and keep costs low.

(I applaud their spare build out of the space: the walls are temporary, and there’s no reception desk — the members must know where they are going when they get there. It seemed like all the funds were poured into the equipment and nothing more.)

Once you are in the chair, the teams do a full diagnostic (with tools like 3D scanning and saliva testing) and a dental exam before cleaning. When a member has additional needs, they are referred to a specialist for that care – similar to a primary care doc and a specialist, they say.

In other words, they do not do any serious dental care — fillings, crowns, etc. — if you need treatment beyond cleaning, they refer you out. “We are only incentivized to keep your mouth healthy, not treat problems,” the website says. Members own their records and they can easily be transferred. Still, each studio has a full clinical team at all times: dentist, hygienists and dental assistants/techs.

“The differences between our team and a traditional dental office are 1) all team members support each other and facilitate a different part of the patient visit and 2) our hygienists lead the experience and are supported by the dentist and assistants,” Burnett told me in an email.

The three founders came up with the idea after living outside the US and then returning to find the cost of dentistry here through the roof. They also were suspicious of the care they were getting and were convinced that they were backed into unnecessary treatments.

“People, especially 25-45-year-olds, don’t have a dental experience built for them and are tired of paying up to $450 for a cleaning that continuously leads to more treatment,” Burnett said. “By avoiding the insurance game, we built a value-based experience that works for patients, and is loved by the hygienists who provide it. We focus on patient outcomes, not selling treatment.”

It’s a fascinating model, but I am not sure if I would trust it the way I trust my dentist on Murray. I just bought dental insurance on the NY state marketplace: it was $74 a month for a family of five. But I still had a $60 co-pay when I went for a cleaning. I go four times a year, so would that pay off? Sure, but you can’t skip the insurance for the bigger problems. Interesting…

249 Church at Leonard

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  1. Seems like a good membership model for those without dental insurance and who have generally healthy teeth. What surprises me is that they thought that one of the wealthiest zip codes in America is the right place to find this demographic. Maybe they are focused more on cosmetic whitenings (not covered by insurance) rather than cleanings?

  2. This is very good for people with Periodontal disease. Insurance doesn’t cover cleanings more than every six months which is ridiculous. In the long run this model will be better for long term dental health and I assume they may eventually add additional services if they get more seed money. Hope they open in more cities.