Idea Behind OrthoDirect Something To Smile About

By Troy Brynelson The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "OrthoDirect" Co-founder Natalie Olsen says she came up with the idea for her company when her dentist brother, Dr. Phillip Cronin, offered to fix a crooked tooth using aligners.

The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

A young business in Clark County hopes to narrow some gaps in the business of fixing teeth.

OrthoDirect, founded by two Vancouver siblings, opened its first two offices last summer in Vancouver and Hillsboro, Ore., offering invisible aligners at reduced costs.

Co-founder Natalie Olsen, a graduate of Heritage High School, came to the idea when her dentist brother, Dr. Phillip Cronin, offered to fix a crooked tooth using the aligners.

She sent a mold of her bite to his offices in Arkansas, and soon received invisible, plastic retainers that slowly shift teeth into the desired position.

Olsen, an entrepreneur with a real estate background, said she gained confidence and a new business idea. People often say they would fix their teeth if it was more affordable; she thought maybe the siblings could help.

"As dumb as it sounds, I stopped smiling because I hated that crooked tooth," she said. "My brain started turning. I brought it up with my brother, and he said there was a company doing this already. We started talking about how we can make it more affordable for people."

According to a 2013 survey by the American Dental Association, braces and invisible aligners can typically range in price from $4,685 to $7,135. OrthoDirect hopes to offer its aligners for less than $1,500. Some dental insurance plans can cover up to half the cost, Olsen said.

The company, with a total staff of five, aims to cut costs by keeping its rent costs low and by investing early in efficient technologies.

Both locations -- the Vancouver location is at 416 N.E. 87th Ave., Suite 3A -- are housed within dental offices. Opting for a chair in the corner is cheaper than a dedicated office, Olsen said, and if any customers need professional dental care, they are within arm's reach of a dentist on contract.

Staff also use a high-tech wand, called an intraoral scanner, to generate 3-D images of teeth used to create the invisible aligners. The process is faster and ultimately cheaper, although OrthoDirect has to first pay off the initial price tag. The two wands cost $28,000 each.

OrthoDirect is close to breaking even, according to Olsen. It is currently buoyed by private investment.

Growing the company in the future will come down to marketing and standard growth. They may be able to offer the aligners at lower costs if they land enough customers to buy in bulk, but Olsen said they have to do a lot of educating so people know the business is offered.

"I think we're such a new industry in general that it's just an education process to let people know this option exists," she said.

If it does catch on, Olsen said the company hopes to grow deliberately in the Pacific Northwest.

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