An animated hippo named Mimi eases kids’ anxiety about dental visits

The Yonder app uses mixed reality to get kids comfortable before their first dentist visit.

Happy Monday readers,

The thought of going to the dentist makes a lot of people cringe. The jitters manifest in people of all ages. I recently spoke with two Minnesota entrepreneurs working to alleviate that anxiety in a sometimes overlooked target audience: children.

Courtney Hill and Adam Choe created the app Yonder to provide users with child-friendly, easy-to-understand information about taking a trip to the dentist. They met during a medical device innovation fellowship at the University of Minnesota. They were part of a group focused specifically on medical solutions for children and decided to find the ways and reasons children are scared by dentist visits.

“I understand why kids are afraid. They’re usually very afraid of me,” said Hill, who is a pediatric ENT. “I [examine] them in an area of the body we try to protect. Adam and I did a lot of research to understand what causes the fear and anxiety when they see a doctor or dentist in a new situation and looked at pathways to see how they can be modulated.”

While shots at a medical facility hurt and understandably leave a bad memory, children often are fearful of doctors and dentists before they even get into the exam room. Humans often fear the unknown, and this can prompt children who do not understand what a doctor or dentist visit entails to be afraid. Yonder alleviates that fear by preparing a child with ample information before they get scared.

The Yonder app uses mixed reality – incorporating elements of augmented reality and the real environment – to walk a child through their first dentist’s appointment with an animated hippopotamus named Mimi. The idea is the child will not be scared when they arrive at the appointment if Mimi helps them see in advance exactly what will happen during their visit.

“It’s intended for doing ahead of time so when kids walk in, they think it’s fine and there’s nothing new about this. They relax to the point where they get through the entire exam and are confident to open their mouth – which is a big challenge – and participate in the exam,” Hill said. For example, a dentist could ask the child to open their mouth “just like Mimi,” and kids are then more likely to do so with confidence.

Yonder partners with dentists to provide customized apps with real video of the office and dentist. The dentists send parents a code to download the specialized app when they make an appointment for their child. The specialization is important to help the child’s understanding because “offices are different: People look different, and the tools might be called something different,” Hill said.

Hill and Choe spun off their school project into a business in 2017, spent 2018 developing and piloting the app, and had their first sales in the market last year. “We wanted to make sure not to go too fast to make sure kids are getting a great product,” Choe said. They were on track to further scale Yonder this year, but the pandemic is creating a challenging atmosphere considering the company sells services to dentists, a profession that largely is shut down to all but emergency visits.

Yonder’s overarching goal is to keep children and their teeth healthy, so Hill and Choe are exploring other ways to engage this target audience even when they don’t have dentist visits scheduled and don’t have access to the app. One idea is at-home oral health education on topics including flossing and eating foods that keep teeth healthy. “It’s hard to deliver a message to little kids,” Hill said, but added that continuing education is important because “little kids are just about the smartest human beings around and will absorb all the information you give them. They’re a captive audience and we have to capitalize on that properly.”

I was impressed by that observation and the respect for children that Hill and Choe exhibited throughout our conversation. They do not treat children like incapable individuals who need to be patronized, but rather like smart, capable individuals who simply should be communicated with a little differently than adults.

Do you know of other medtech entrepreneurs solving challenging problems to make the world a better place? Let me know so I can highlight them in a future newsletter. Email or connect on Twitter @centereddottech to share ideas.

Other stories we’re watching:

  • Chicago tech and startup companies raised at least $62 million in venture capital in April. The drop from $218 million in March is likely because of the pandemic. (Chicago Inno)
  • The Cleveland health-tech corridor is one of the innovation centers recognized for contributions in the fight against COVID-19. (Brookings Institution)
  • The president of the Wisconsin Technology Council recommends that early-stage startups make their presence known during the pandemic and make the most of existing relationships. (This aligns with tips I offered last week to help small tech businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.) (Wisconsin State Journal)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s