Smile Direct Club shuts down

Public urged to seek professional care for all dental needs rather than resorting to at home treatments

11 December, 2023 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

Smile Direct Club has shut down months after filing for bankruptcy in the US, leaving customers confused and stranded. Best known for selling clear aligners remotely, the firm said it had made the “incredibly difficult decision” to wind down operations late on Friday.

The US-based dentistry company was offering aligners for about £1,800 without the need to visit a dentist. A last-ditch rescue attempt failed though as it was weighed down by debt. Founded in 2014, the orthodontics company styled itself as a disruptor. Many customers were drawn to Smile Direct Club because of the lower price point and the fact they could take the moulds for their aligners themselves at home.

However, customers in the US, UK and elsewhere have been left confused as the firm says that its customer support line will no longer be available, despite the fact that customers may need check-ins or adjustments for their aligners. It recommends that if people want to carry on with their treatment, they should get in touch with a local dentist.

It is concerning that the company has been able to evade regulation

It has also angered customers by saying that the “lifetime smile guarantee” it previously offered was no longer valid, while those with payment plans set up are expected to continue making payments. There will be more information on refunds, it said, as the bankruptcy process continues and “next steps” are determined.

The British Dental Association has told dental regulators that urgent reform is needed to “stop the next SmileDirectClub putting patients at risk”. It said it understood that the company had just five UK-registered dentists overseeing cases. It is unknown if these clinicians were UK-based or covered by appropriate professional indemnity.

The professional body has now asked both the General Dental Council and Care Quality Commission what expectations are on them to finish incomplete courses of treatment. The BBC have reported the company had 65,000 patients. As SmileDirectClub only launched in the UK in 2019, the BDA have expressed concern over its ability to maintain basic clinical standards based on these numbers.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: “It beggars belief that five dentists would be enough to provide continuing care for the company’s reported 65,000 UK patients. It shows why change is needed, so that the public are protected, and corners are not cut.

“This could prove a minefield for any dentist stepping up to help. We need assurances that any clinicians attempting to undo damage will not be liable for mistakes made by this company. A full clinical assessment isn’t a nice to have or an optional extra – it should be required no matter what. If we’re going to protect patients the basics of decent care must be in place for all.”

[Story updated 14.12.23]

Grant McIntyre, President of the Faculty of Dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, commented: “Following the announced closure of private cosmetic dentistry firm Smile Direct Club, we reiterate our advice to seek professional care for all dental needs rather than resorting to at home treatments.

“It is concerning that the company has been able to evade regulation, and suddenly closing their worldwide operations is a dangerous situation for patients stranded in a treatment limbo, with many left significantly out of pocket.

“This issue comes at a time in the UK in particular when waiting lists are substantial and any additional patients entering the NHS system will result in additional service pressure.

“We would encourage all affected patients to promptly make an appointment with a Specialist Orthodontist, particularly those holding a Membership in Orthodontics, who will be able to advise them of the next clinical steps.”

Tags: Smile Direct Club

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