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This Dental Startup For Millennials Comes To You In A Tiny House

Lydian is taking a tooth-and-nail approach to reinventing dental care, including cozy rolling offices and a punchy brand by Rapt Studio.

Is there anyone who looks forward to a dreaded dentist’s appointment? From the waiting room muzak, to the dated, sterile interiors and array of painful drills and instruments that poke and prod your mouth, the experience leaves a lot to be desired–or to avoid entirely.

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Framed as an “aspirational” brand intent on disrupting the dental industry, the startup Lydian Dental offers a concierge healthcare model in which users pay a fixed monthly subscription fee that covers a range of services if needed. Founded in 2014 by dentists Josh Turnbull and Scott Connell, together with Harvard Business School graduate Clayton Nylander, Lydian is like the Oscar of dental insurance: a more user-friendly alternative with a cooler image (down to an eerily similar combination of cobalt-blue hues and spot illustrations, to boot.) The catch? So far, subscribers can only go to Lydian’s four clinics in Arizona and Texas, with two more underway. Yet for those based in either region, a comprehensive branding of the entire experience, led by the design firm Rapt Studio, makes that feel more like a special perk than a caveat.

Now Lydian is working with Rapt Studio on a growing fleet of RV-style dental clinics under the moniker Lydian Mobile. Nylander notes that American Dental Association research shows convenience is a major reason millennial-aged patients don’t go to the dentist, and the portable units have gained an edge among Austin tech startups looking to offer their employees the added perk of having dentists come to them.

[Image: courtesy Rapt Studio]
“As we saw through the idea of creating an aspirational brand, we looked outside of the healthcare space and to a lot of service companies, like Starbucks, that have been able to transform a transaction into an experience,” says Nylander, adding that he and his partners specifically chose to work with Rapt Studio for its expertise in branding innovative offices, retail, and hospitality spaces for clients like HBO, Fender, and Google.

While mobile dental units have traditionally been used to service emergency and underserved communities, Lydian is betting that design can elevate the experience for every type of patient–including the in-need communities Lydian periodically services as part its social outreach mission.

[Photo: courtesy Rapt Studio]
“When we’re brainstorming, we always start with people,” says David Galullo, CEO of Rapt Studio, which shaped the brand’s visual identity and overall user experience. That ranges from tees and staff uniforms with quippy phrases, to the membership cards, free toothbrushes, custom toothpaste flavors, and clinic interiors, which make a point to conceal many of those sharp, menacing dental instruments when not in use. The Rapt Studio team also specified airy, ground-floor storefronts with large windows for all of Lydian’s brick-and-mortar locations, instead of “cloistered up in a high-rise in an anonymous office space,” Galullo adds, which can depersonalize the experience. “Think about your last experience at the dentist, and just track through all of the points that were pleasant or annoying, that could have been done differently,” he says.

Galullo’s team looked to prefab architecture and the tiny home movement for references while designing the mobile offices. “Working on the mobile clinic allowed us the full ability to really customize the whole experience–how it opened up to the street, or could express the idea of a welcoming front porch.”

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Clad with wood paneling and surrounded by lawn chairs when parked, the RV does indeed look more like a cabin than a car. Inside, televisions hang above reclining patient chairs that are accented with a plaid, rug-like upholstery (under the plastic seat cover, which remains for hygienic reasons). It’s a small but nostalgic detail that might even remind you of a La-Z-Boy in a living room–which is exactly the point, Galullo says. Getting a filling or cleaning may never be as painless or leisurely as lounging in front of the tube, but Rapt’s hospitality-driven approach makes it a point to show just how much more pleasant and convenient it could be.

“We thought, let’s just catalog all of the user touchpoints and see how that we can curate that in a way that adds up to an experience that’s more than the sum of the parts,” says Galullo, “and in fact, something you’d potentially look forward to coming back to.”

Currently, the lean startup counts over 3,000 patients and 300 subscribers within its user base. With the popularity of its mobile dental clinics, Lydian is eyeing to grow that number by partnering with larger businesses on employer-provided coverage–and possibly a larger healthcare network provider that sees added value in user experience.

And for those laudable few that emerge from their dental checkups unscathed and cavity-free? Lest they need any reason to return soon, Lydian cheekily rewards them with a chocolate bar in a custom wrapper that reads: “Flossify.” The joke may be on us, but we’d still choose this over a regular dentist visit any day.

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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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