You brush, floss, and rinse your teeth daily (even twice!) only to go to the dentist and discover that you have gum disease or a cavity. And since cavities and gum disease are chronic diseases, effective treatment takes more than one office visit. But what if you could collaborate with your dentist to monitor the health of your teeth from home in addition to regular visits?
CaviSense, a venture in both Launch Lab X GEO and the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, is building a dentist-patient platform to allow patients to continuously monitor the health of their teeth and mouths from home, and to detect cavities and gum disease as soon as they start to develop. This mutual, ongoing effort combines in-office and at-home treatment, helping to prevent invasive and costly procedures. In fact, early-stage cavities can be treated without drilling!
CaviSense recently hired a Head of Product and CEO, and is actively involved in financing the company.
Read on for our interview with CaviSense founder Dr. Gili Naveh!
Harvard Innovation Labs: What inspired you to start this venture? How did you come to do this work?
Dr. Gili Naveh: I’m a clinician and a scientist. My career started as a full-time practicing dentist about 15 years ago. I decided to go the research route because I felt that if we could know more, we could improve patients’ health and not just drill into teeth.
Nine out of ten people have cavities! We know how this disease works; the problem is that the main diagnostic tools have not changed for more than 100 years, and treatments are confined to the dental office. Throughout my research, we developed technology to help bridge the diagnostic gap and enable better treatments. I decided that the best way to get the technology into people’s hands quickly was to build a company.
HIL: Were you at Harvard when you decided to build the company?
Naveh: Yes, I was a professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. The presence of the Harvard Innovation Labs and Life Lab on campus created a great opportunity to actually get this company started!
HIL: What keeps you motivated as you develop your venture?
Naveh: A few years ago I had a 10-year-old kid come to my office with her parents, who were well-educated people with no financial hurdles. Despite making sure the kid was brushing their teeth twice a day and not eating a lot of candy, each time they came to the dentist they found new cavities. They did not know what to do and the poor child was so afraid of the entire dental experience – shots and the noise of the drilling tools. Obviously, this is a patient who would benefit from better diagnosis, at-home monitoring, and non-drilling treatments.
HIL: It’s true that as a patient, I don’t necessarily know if I’m even brushing or flossing well! I only know I’m doing it poorly when I go to the dentist or get a cavity.
Naveh: Well, did you know that dental cavities are reversible at early stages?
HIL: No! I had no idea.
Naveh: You can actually change the course of your cavity if you catch it early on. The problem is that with the x-rays we’re using, we can’t detect those early-stage cavities. Since all the detection and diagnostics are done in the dental office, you have to go to the dentist in order to diagnose your cavities. But people don’t like going to the dentist. In 2019 only 65% of Americans actually went to the dentist, and that’s pre-pandemic. Currently, people aren’t going to the dental office and we’re not able to detect these early-stage cavities. This is where CaviSense comes in. We can enable people to detect and monitor those early-stage cavities at home.
HIL: Patients always hear about preventive tooth care, such as brushing your teeth, flossing, etc. But this seems like a different kind of at-home care. How does this change the patient experience, or the patient’s sense of ownership over the health of their teeth?
Naveh: This is exactly the question that needs to be asked because currently, there are no at-home indicators for oral health. Today, if you as a patient know that you have a small cavity and you need to floss or take extra care of your cavity, you will know if you’re successful or not only when you next go to the dentist’s office. You have no feedback on whether what you’re doing in your home is working. This is a big problem in dentistry and oral care, since you are seeing your dentist only once or twice a year (if you’re a good patient). CaviSense is changing all of that. We can provide you with the tools to actually see if what you’re doing is working, giving you control over your dental health. This can also reduce your expenses tremendously and improve your dental experience! In the end, you will love your teeth and your dentist!
HIL: Have there been any unexpected challenges while building your venture?
Naveh: The ultimate goal of CaviSense is to help people by improving their oral health. However, changing the basic habits of patients and dentists can take time. Moreover, this ultimately must be a collaborative effort among all the stakeholders: patients, dentists, and insurance companies. That said, the timing is right to get everyone on board. The technology and knowledge base exists, telemedicine has been proven as a reliable approach to patient care, and now CaviSense is providing the missing link: simple-to-use, at-home diagnostics.
There should not be anything in the way to transform oral health and enable a collaborative platform for dentists and patients to enable patients to take control of their oral health! It’s a win-win-win situation.
HIL: Has CaviSense changed since you first conceived of the venture idea?
Naveh: Absolutely! I started with a device and it is now becoming a platform for both dentists and patients to enhance patient engagement, improve treatment success, and promote oral health. As such, I’m seeing that it’s becoming a much bigger opportunity than I’d originally envisioned. Essentially, we’re starting with cavity diagnostics, but we can eventually utilize our technology to diagnose other conditions and diseases.
HIL: What’s next for your venture? How do you see CaviSense growing?
Naveh: We recently enhanced our team with great talent. We are working on optimizing our technology and at the same time we’re working on partnerships with dentists as first adopters. I think this will add value and improve the oral care that they’re giving to their patients. We’re also working on fundraising.
HIL: What has it been like to be involved at the Life Lab and the community there?
Naveh: The Life Lab is an amazing place because it brings together an entrepreneurial group of people from both business and scientific disciplines. In so doing, it opens many doors and creates unexpected avenues, collaborations, and opportunities for your venture.
HIL: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the experience of building CaviSense?
Naveh: I like challenges and learning. Building CaviSense is definitely a new and challenging experience, so I love it! A smart person once told me to do whatever makes you drink your morning coffee the fastest. Our mission is big and can potentially help so many people, it takes me only 2 minutes to get through my morning cup!