Brighter tries new twist on discount dental program for the uninsured

If you don’t have dental insurance (and often even if you do) paying for a visit to the dentist can be as painful as the procedure itself. But Brighter, a Santa Monica-based startup, has a new plan for bringing more affordable dental care to those paying for expenses out of pocket.

The company, which has raised $13 million from Benchmark and the Mayfield Fund, first launched in 2011 with a model somewhat similar to other discount dental clubs. The site offered 20 to 30 percent discounts to users for free and steeper discounts of up to 60 percent off to users who purchased the $79 annual plan.

On Monday, the company said it is re-launching with a new business model that charges users nothing to access 50 percent off discounts to all dentists in its network.

“Half the population doesn’t have dental insurance,” said Brighter CEO and founder Jake Winebaum, who formerly founded “It took us a while to figure out how to go about attacking it… [but] this is a new free service that will make dental care more accessible and affordable.”

Under the previous model, the company had negotiated discounts with tens of thousands of dentists in its nationwide network and, with this model, the company will start with only 350 dentists in the Los Angeles area. But the company said its early subscription model wasn’t disruptive enough to the insurance model – instead of charging consumers to access affordable and transparent prices, they wanted to provide a free alternative.

Instead of charging the consumer a subscription fee, Brighter’s new approach is to charge the dentists to list their services on the site (the company declined to share the fee). Winebaum said that with each dentist the company negotiates cheaper prices for potentially hundreds of procedures – from teeth cleaning and whitening to root canals and crowns.  It creates a search-friendly, comprehensive profile for each dentist, including information about their medical training, distinctions, Yelp reviews and a Brighter-produced video. And, like ZocDoc, its software integrates directly with the dentists’ practice management system so that patients can peer into their calendars and book services online.

The dentists not only pay for the extra exposure and online marketing, but for the ability to reach more patients who can pay upfront and who don’t require the dentist to deal with the hassles and delays associated with filing paperwork and claims with insurance companies.

The new model places the company in a less crowded class — Brighter had several other competitors with the subscription model, including companies like Careington and While the company is part of a wave of new startups trying to bring needed price transparency to healthcare, including Castlight, ClearCostHealthHealthInReach (which also pre-negotiates cheaper prices with providers) and PokitDok, none of those companies focus exclusively on dentists.

Winebaum said the company’s plan is to expand into other California markets later this year and then move into other parts of the country next year.  He also noted that Benchmark’s Bill Gurley, who previously helped oversee the local launches for startups like Uber and Grubhub, is a member of Brighter’s board.