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Understanding the Risks: Smile Direct Club & the Reality of Teledentistry

Smile Direct Club

In December 2023, Smile Direct Club, a teledentistry company with over 2 million customers worldwide, officially announced it would shut down due to bankruptcy.

Their goal was to revolutionize oral health by providing people with straightened teeth entirely online, at a significantly lower cost compared to braces.

Companies like this invest a lot of money in advertising and try their best to convince those unfamiliar with orthodontics that they can achieve a beautiful smile while saving a significant amount of money and time!

The growing list of complaints about Smile Direct Club made us think it’s our duty to inform the community about the risks associated with non-doctors’ practices. Read on to understand the concerns surrounding these issues.

Knowing More About the Company and Why They’re Closing

Smile Direct Club, which started in 2014 and has over 2 million customers worldwide, aimed to change oral care with clear aligners that were quicker and cheaper than traditional braces. They sold these aligners directly to people by mail and at major retailers.

In 2019, when Smile Direct Club went public, its value was around $8.9 billion. But over time, its value dropped as it kept losing money. By 2022, it had lost $86.4 million.

Eric Snyder, from the Wilk Auslander law firm, mentioned that Smile Direct Club had to spend a lot to get new customers and prove it could grow. Also, it faced legal fights with orthodontists, making it hard to compete. They’ve lost a lot of money lately.

In September, Smile Direct Club asked for bankruptcy protection because it had almost $900 million in debt. In September 2023, it confirmed it’s closing because it couldn’t find a partner to bring in enough money to keep running.

Smile Direct Club Bankrupt

A Story of a Patient- Smile Direct Club News

Anna Rosemond from Virginia is one example of a patient who was drawn to the advertisements of Smile Direct Club. The company promised to straighten teeth for just $2,000, roughly a third of the cost of traditional braces, all within 6 months and from the comfort of home. Promising savings in both time and money!

Their ads portrayed the entire teeth-straightening process as simple. Patients like Anna, who knew little about orthodontics but desired a beautiful smile, ordered one of the kits.

To begin, Smile Direct Club offered Anna the option to obtain a 3D image of her teeth at one of their SmileShops and then receive an at-home kit. After a few weeks, Anna received dental aligners and followed instructions to take mouth pictures every 90 days. Smile Direct Club informed her that their 250 orthodontists and dentists would be checked and reviewed for her treatment from afar. As Anna said to NBCNews, all her care was managed through an online channel.

As instructed, Anna sent several photos of her teeth to the Smile Direct Club, but after a year, she felt pain in her teeth. She said, “I really noticed that things didn’t feel right with my bite, and my head was hurting frequently.”

She was promised access to her dentist but couldn’t reach them despite trying many times. Therefore, she sought help from an outside orthodontist. The orthodontist identified a crossbite issue, possibly caused by the aligners. The worst is that the crossbite caused neck and jaw muscle strain, leading to migraines.

According to Anna, she chose Smile Direct Club to save money, but instead, she had to spend thousands on traditional braces to fix her teeth.

Smile Direct Club and similar companies promise to give people healthy, beautiful smiles at home. But now, we found a growing list of complaints from the people who already used the aligners and, after a while, had to deal with painful problems.

According to the NBCNews report, over 1,800 nationwide complaints have been filed. Most of these complaints concern customer service problems, such as broken aligners, delivery delays, and payment problems. Additionally, dozens of complaints mentioned results like broken teeth and nerve damage.

Following numerous complaints, nine Congress members, including five dentists, have asked the FDA and FTC to investigate Smile Direct Club for misleading people or causing harm to patients.

Dr. Chung Kau, an orthodontist professor at the University of Alabama, warns that shifting teeth without in-person supervision can cause permanent damage.

Issues with one’s bite aren’t just cosmetic. According to Kau, “If your bite isn’t right, it affects how your jaw works. You might have migraines, jaw joint troubles, or your joints might weaken.” He continued: “The damage can’t be fixed. It’s serious—things like bone loss, or losing a tooth, once gone, can’t be reversed.”

Lastly, we invite you to watch the video provided by NBCNews. The journalist concealed a camera in her bag and visited one of Smile Direct Club’s SmileShops. Witness the response of their employee and judge for yourself.