Liz and Geoff Sudit, DDS, MS, won their second OrthoTank startup competition with Retain, a retainer renewal service that keeps the doctor involved.

By Steven Martinez

Liz Sudit and her husband Geoff Sudit, DDS, MS, who run Mint Orthodontics in Minneapolis, Minn, recently won the OrthoTank competition at the 2024 AAO Annual Session for their latest startup, Retain, a retainer renewal service that allows doctors to offer their patients a plan to regularly receive a new retainer when their old one has worn out or gotten too gross to wear.

Retain is the second straight idea from Liz and Geoff to win OrthoTank, after winning for Bright Referral in 2023. The idea behind Retain is two-fold: give patients fresh retainers so they continue to wear them after treatment and give orthodontists a way to maintain a relationship with their patients. 

Getting Patients to Wear their Retainers

A patient’s teeth will continue to move after treatment, and they are expected to wear a retainer for the rest of their lives. But patients tend to stop wearing them either because the device has reached a state where they don’t want to put it in their mouths anymore, or they lose or break them, or the material the retainer is made of wears out and is no longer functioning correctly.

“You’re more apt to continue wearing your retainer if it feels fresh, clean, and like a good experience,” says Liz. “So, the longer you have a retainer, the less frequently you’ll wear it just because that’s human nature.”

Patients often stop wearing their retainers, and once their teeth have moved, they return later in life for retreatment.

“A big part of our practices are re-treat cases,” says Geoff. “We all treat a lot of adult cases who had a retainer when they were younger, and now their teeth have shifted over 20 years because they did not wear a retainer. Now they have to go back and do aligner treatment again for the low price of $8,000 Instead of just getting a new $150 retainer once a year.”

Retaining Patients with Retainers

While there are other retainer programs available, those models, according to Geoff, have the doctor hands their patient off to a third-party, ending the orthodontist’s direct involvement. Not only that, but the practice loses its connection to a patient it invested in and the potential referral opportunities from continuing those touchpoints.

“We’re losing money on retainers,” says Geoff. “We typically buy the first retainers for patients, and then we say, ‘Come back and let us know if you ever need one again.’ Only 1% of the population will come back and get a new one. [Retain] keeps them connected.”

Retain allows patients to sign up for a subscription service and choose a time frame for receiving new retainers regularly. It can be every year, every 6 months, or even as frequently as monthly. Liz says that the most popular option is every 6 months, but parents opt for more frequent options for their children because kids tend to have worse oral hygiene and want to avoid creating further issues with unkempt retainers.

If patients prefer, they can also buy retainers on-demand only through Retain. The company stores the STL file so that a new one can be made at any time. Liz and Geoff partnered with Partners Dental Studio, one of the larger orthodontic labs in the country, to produce the retainers, which are made with Zendura material.

Doctors can set the price of the retainers and collect 50% of the profit. Retain receives the other half and uses it to cover lab fees, shipping, and other costs. 

The Winning OrthoTank Formula

The OrthoTank competition is an annual event at the Annual Session that allows orthodontic-focused startups to pitch their business ideas to a panel of influential judges for a chance to receive investment from the AAO Innovation & Transformation Fund. 

Modeled after the Shark Tank TV show, OrthoTank requires participants to go up on stage with an audience to do their best pitch for a selection of judges that includes well-known names in orthodontics and representatives from venture capital firms. The “sharks” name a winner who is recommended for investment from the AAO. 

The TV show is known for playing up the drama and stress of the situation with larger-than-life personalities and negotiations. And while the orthodontic version is tame by comparison, it can still be an intimidating experience. 

Having pitched before with Bright Referral, the Sudits prepared this time with an outline of what they wanted to say and rehearsed to feel confident on stage. Geoff, a KOL for LightForce Orthodontics and a few other companies, has gotten used to public speaking, but pitching your own product changes the experience, he says.

“I’m used to doing it, and I enjoy it,” says Geoff. “But it’s different when you’re up there selling yourself and your business. I think it’s more fun, but it certainly can be intimidating for some.”

With two OrthoTank wins behind them, one might wonder if Liz and Geoff are preparing for a three-peat at next year’s competition. “Absolutely not,” says Liz. They insist that they have more than enough on their plate now with Bright Referral and Retain.

“I think if we did, we’d be showing up not as a married couple but as a formerly married couple,” says Geoff. “Our hands are full.”