- I went to DNTL, a “walk-in dental bar,” to get a semi-annual teeth cleaning.
- Booking an appointment was easy – there was even availability on the same day I was booking – and I’d never had so many amenities at the dentist, from a massage exam chair, to a blanket, to a TV screen playing “The Office” during my cleaning.
- My visit was covered under my insurance plan.
- It reminded me that there is a future in which getting care doesn’t have to be high-tech or high-cost to still be comfortable and as easy to use as any other service.
- The visit was part of an experiment to get all my healthcare taken care of via companies aiming to make the experience more convenient.
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I set out to get all of my healthcare taken care of through companies that promised to make getting to the doctor easier and more affordable.
During my reporting, I hadn’t seen many startups trying to disrupt the dentist visit. Eventually I heard about DNTL, which calls itself a “walk-in dental bar.” To me, it sounded like a blow bar or nail bar – as if cleaning your teeth was as simple as getting your hair styled or a manicure.
The practice opened in January, founded by dentist Dr. Ben El Chami. It’s funded by CityMD cofounder Nedal Shami, who is El Chami’s cousin. El Chami’s goal after 14 years in dentistry was to create a place that people wanted to go, not felt like they had to go. For people who walk in out of curiosity and want to get a cleaning right away, DNTL keeps an open chair available.
“We’re making it so it’s super convenient for the patient and really easy to get in and do their preventive care,” El Chami said.
Ingrid Lindberg, the former chief customer experience officer at health insurer Cigna, said she’s been observing the shift toward focusing on consumers (here, patients going to the dentist) since the early 2000s. As patients have started to get exposed to more of their healthcare costs, their expectations for care have risen alongside it.
“It’s not just that we have high expectations, it’s that we share them,” said Lindberg, who now runs the customer-experience consulting firm Chief Customer.
Patients won’t stick around if they don’t like their experience, or if they can get something taken care of more conveniently through a different visit.
“We’re not nearly as brand loyal and not nearly as people loyal,” Lindberg said.
I’m a good example of that: So far, I’ve been to now three dental offices in NYC, very infrequently with the same dentist. I’ve switched mainly based on wanting to go to an office closer to my work – and now to carry out this experiment.
Hotel lobby vibes, massage chairs, and a speedy visit
I booked my DNTL appointment online, which was easy – I saw I could even go in later that day. Instead, I decided to go the next week.
It was the first time I was able to book a dentist appointment and have the option not to do X-rays. I had done a set with my go-to dentist just a few months before, so I figured it wouldn’t be worth it right now.
The exterior of the building matched that feeling of going to a blowout bar. I anticipated going upstairs, something I’d gotten used to in New York. Instead I turned the corner and was surprised to see the storefront. It was replete with magazines I didn’t get a chance to browse. I only sat in the empty waiting room for as long as it took to fill out an iPad with paperwork. I even had the option of filling it out ahead of time, but I didn’t because I didn’t have time.
The goal of DNTL’s design is to make it feel as little like a dentist’s office as possible. Ideally, that would make for a more inviting and comfortable experience, El Chami said.
“Thinking about going to the dentist instills discomfort and fear in a lot of people,” he said.
Inside the exam room, there was a screen playing episodes of “The Office.” A blanket sat on the chair so that I could drape it over my legs, and the chair itself had a massage feature.
Unlike some visits where I had to wait to be seen, I was never on my own. After checking in on the health of my teeth, the cleaning began. That felt pretty standard, but there were some fun twists I’d never come across before, like tea tree oil for my gums and hot towels after I was done.
A little less than an hour later, my visit was over and I was sent on my way after confirmation that my visit was covered through my insurance.
For those who are paying in cash, the prices are listed on DNTL’s website. The menu even includes services that you might not often associate with a dentist’s office. For instance, a “date night” service that offers “polish, floss, and go.”
On my way out, I was handed a goodie bag with a wooden toothbrush and perplexing charcoal floss.
The DNTL visit was the least tech-enabled part of my whole experience getting healthcare taken care of through new models. But it was a fun experience, and I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to pay anything extra for the services like I had with other medical practices.
It reminded me that there is a future in which getting care doesn’t have to be high-tech or high-cost to still be comfortable and as easy to use as any other service.
“It’s fascinating to see the war for consumers come down to the practitioner level,” Lindberg said.
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