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    The risks and rewards of mail-order braces

    While mail-order aligners continue to grow in popularity, several organizations are speaking up about the risks associated with this treatment.


    Adrian LaTrace, CEO of Boyd Industries, says he has conducted market research and seen some poor outcomes experienced by SmileDirectClub customers. Take, for instance, Charlene Burnham, a 60-year-old SmileDirectClub customer who told BuzzFeed News that the aligners she received were too tight, which ended up cutting her gums and exposing part of her tooth near the root. Burnham claims she spent a week trying to speak with a SmileDirectClub dentist on the phone to no avail.

    According to the Better Business Bureau, 205 consumer complaints have been lodged against SmileDirectClub in the last three years. Most of the complaints are about the product itself, while others deal with shipping or billing issues.

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    “Although there will be people that SmileDirectClub gets right, there will be many they don’t. What is the acceptable number of patients that are harmed by this method? This will have to be answered by the regulators and marketplace,” LaTrace says.

    According to a blog post on SmileDirectClub’s website, the clear aligners are offered through a network of more than 225 Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) throughout the country. The network is reportedly comprised of state-licensed, board-certified orthodontists and general dentists who assess each individual case.

    “An individual who is requesting treatment by using SmileDirectClub’s aligners is receiving the same level of care from a treating ELP as an individual visiting a traditional orthodontist or dentist for treatment,” says Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, chief clinical office at SmileDirectClub. “The teledentistry platform allows for more convenient access and flexibility for individuals who may not have access to local care.”

    However, most patients don’t visit a dental office or orthodontist during their invisible aligner treatment, which is an area of concern for the Michigan Dental Association. The MDA created a resolution stating that “supervision by a licensed dentist is necessary for all phase of orthodontic treatment.”

    From a commercial perspective, LaTrace says, SmileDirectClub is another outside threat to the orthodontic profession.

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    “Orthodontists have faced stiff competition from general dentists who prescribe orthodontic procedures or aligners, and more recently from the ‘do-it-yourself’ tooth realignment crowd,” he says. “SmileDirect, unlike the teenager who ties their teeth with elastic, does provide a level of screening before producing and supplying the clear aligners to correct a person’s malocclusion. From publicly posted results, it is apparent that at times the end results do not meet the customers’ expectations. In contrast, an orthodontist provides a continuum of care to make the necessary adjustments to assure good patient outcomes.”

    SmileDirectClub, however, stands by its product and treatment process.

    “The medical industry has been here before,” says co-founder Jordan Katzman in a release. “Products like hearing aids, contact lenses and dialysis supplies faced resistance at first too. We are confident in our product as well as our process and independent providers and will not let the opposition keep us from providing more accessible and affordable services.”

    Kristen Mott
    Kristen Mott is the associate editor for Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics.


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