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Smile Club collapse: It shouldn’t have taken a bankruptcy to protect patients

The British Dental Association has warned that the collapse of remote-orthodontic giant SmileDirectClub will not close the door on the clear risks to patients presented by remote orthodontics.

The business model - offering patients plastic aligners based on a 3D scan of their mouths or via an impression taken from at-home moulding kits – can lead to fundamental changes to a patient’s mouth that may be irreversible.

The BDA has regularly raised concerns directly with regulators – the Care Quality Commission and General Dental Council – about this practice since 2019. The professional body warn that the bankruptcy of the market leader should not be viewed as a substitute for meaningful regulation to protect patients. In 2021 the GDC published guidelines, stressing that orthodontic patients need to be fully assessed by a dentist, that direct dentist-to-patient interaction – the basis for informed consent - is essential, and that patients must know the name and registration number of the dentist responsible for their care. However, it did not offer any clarity on what sanctions it might utilise and how the regulator backed up its assumption that such models of care are "safe for many people.” Dentists have stressed the risk of misdiagnosis and lack of informed consent in the absence of face-to-face consultations throughout the course of treatment. The BDA has seen cases of patients with advanced gum disease that have been provided with these aligners, potentially leading to tooth loss.In 2020 an investigation into the provider by U.S. network NBC revealed a wide range of complaints on treatment outcomes. Patients were not required to have any in-person assessment with a dentist, and unhappy customers were made to sign non-disclosure agreements.

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“Dentists are left to pick up the pieces when these providers offer wholly inappropriate treatment.

“It shouldn’t have taken a bankruptcy to protect patients from harm. It requires decent laws and effective regulation.

“Sooner or later, someone will find a way to make remote orthodontics turn a profit. Before that time proper safeguards must be in place.” 

Multiple US reports cite SmileDirectClub’s bankruptcy filing, marking the end of a nine-year run for the startup that never made a profit as a publicly traded business. While there were questions over the status of overseas operations, the following holding message is now in place on the website of the business’s UK operation: https://smiledirectclub.co.uk/

SmileDirectClub has made the incredibly difficult decision to wind down its global operations, effective immediately. For new customers interested in SmileDirectClub services, thank you for your interest, but aligner treatment is no longer available through our telehealth platform. For existing customers, we apologize for the inconvenience, but customer care support is no longer available. Thank you for your support and letting us improve over 2 million smiles and lives.

I placed an order for SmileDirectClub aligners, but have not yet received my aligners. What should I do?

Unfortunately aligner treatment is no longer available through the SmileDirectClub platform. All orders that have not yet shipped have been cancelled at this time, and you will not receive your aligners. Should I continue to conduct my 60-day check-ins? Is my treating doctor still available to complete my treatment?

We apologize for the inconvenience, but aligner treatment is no longer available through the SmileDirectClub platform. If you wish to continue treatment outside of our platform, please consult your treating doctor or your local dentist with any questions around future aligner treatment.

I’m on the SmilePay Plan. Do I need to keep paying for my aligners?

SmilePay customers are expected to continue to make all monthly payments until payment has been made in full per the terms of our SmilePay program. For more questions, please contact HFD at 1-877-874-3877 or [email protected].

Is the Lifetime Guarantee still in place?

No. Effective immediately the Lifetime Smile Guarantee no longer exists.

How do I ask for a refund?

There will be more information to come once the bankruptcy process determines next steps and additional measures customers can take.