Smile Direct Club-The Boboli of Orthodontics


Yep, you read that headline correctly. How could I possibly relate a favorite (and amazing tasting) “take and bake” pizza crust to orthodontics?!?! It’s easy, my paisan.

First, let’s talk about Smile Direct Club, a company that allows you to do orthodontic aligners (like Invisalign) at home, without ever needing to go see an orthodontist. Yep, in case you think you’re seeing things, let me say that again: Orthodontics without seeing an orthodontist or dentist. (That’s kind of like do it at home surgery, right?) You are actually expected to take your own impression, mail it to them and have their “dental professional” evaluate the case, make the aligners and send them back to you. Sounds bananas, doesn’t it? Why would anyone want to skip an exam done by the person trained for years to evaluate bites (the orthodontist)? Well, if you ask those who have used the technology, they’re almost entirely motivated by cost savings.

Now, I’m all for savings, but this? Keep reading…

I love finding savings when buying a commodity like a TV. A commodity is something that is exactly the same regardless of where you buy it. Whether you buy your TV online or perhaps at a store that serves wine, in the end it’s exactly the same TV. Save money, I say. Enjoy the savings.

“A commodity is something that is exactly the same regardless of where you buy it. Orthodontics is not a commodity. It matters where you go and who does your treatment. Yeah, kind of like surgery.”

However, straightening your teeth is NOT a commodity. Where you go and the training of who does it plays a tremendous role. There ARE significant side effects that need to be monitored during orthodontic therapy. Do you think we orthodontists go to school for 3 years for no reason? Problem is, I’ve seen huge problems like irreversible bone loss, gum disease, TMJ problems, muscle soreness and irreversible facial changes happen when aligner treatment has been done by general dentists. These are general dentists, and if they couldn’t get it right, are you telling me that someone monitoring their own treatment at home will know how to look for early signs of irreversible damage and correct the problems themselves? ??

People, we’re talking about trying to predictably move teeth through bone!!! This isn’t a do it at home manicure.

“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could do it, you didn’t stop to think if you should.”-Ian Malcom, from Jurassic Park

If you look around online, it’s not all success stories. In fact, you’ll find many, people who describe terrible customer service, poor (or no) results and others with complaints of damage to their bites. Sure, for those who had successful outcomes, they’ll tell you how happy they are that they didn’t get “scammed” by their orthodontist. Worse yet, and this is the best part, other than straight front teeth, these patients have zero way of evaluating if their bite is properly aligned to prevent later joint and wear problems. Yep, you heard me right. Let me say that again:

Patients have no way of knowing if their bite is properly aligned until problems occur years later.

You can have perfectly straight upper and lower front teeth, but if the bite isn’t properly aligned, you are at considerable risk of joint or tooth wear problems and the worst part is that these terrible symptoms may not show up for decades. Who will be responsible if that happens?

Can you imagine someone finding out a way to do your own eye exams and order your own prescription and glasses without ever seeing an eye specialist, only to find out years later that they did irreversible damage to their eyes? Sure, the glasses looked great and man, it seemed like they could read better, but they missed that one small issue that an eye specialist could have found.

 Think about this: Even if 50% of the people who use remote treatment get a satisfactory result (a number I pulled from thin air) but even a tiny percentage eventually saw considerable damage that could have been avoided and was actually caused by their self-treatment, wouldn’t that sound like something that shouldn’t be allowed.

Smile Direct Club is owned by Camelot Venture Group, venture capitalists  who own things like Sharper Image, Fathead and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their website says that their goal is “to provide capital for accelerated growth”. That’s what venture capitalists do. I’ve been a health care provider for 25 years and my track record and results (and those of almost every orthodontist I know) would tell you that we’re not out to scam you and that we’ve done an awesome job of taking care of you and your families.

Don’t fall into the simple idea that cheaper is better.

I find it funny that potential Smile Direct Club patients claim that their orthodontist is only interested in money, yet they willingly choose to put their long-term dental  health in the hands of venture capitalists invested in Fathead, the Sharper Image and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Like Boboli, Smile Direct Club lets you do all the work at home, but remote aligner treatment isn’t the same as going to an orthodontic specialist. Aside from no thorough examination before treatment there are considerable long term risks that simply haven’t had the time to show up yet. If I told you that you could reduce that lifetime risk considerable for less than an additional $100/month over the next 18 months, why wouldn’t that make sense to you. Why wouldn’t you FIRST go see your local orthodontist for a free consultation and discuss it with them? Do you also believe that your doctor, dentist, eye doctor and chiropractor, people who have helped you when you needed them, are ripping you off?

Beware of online review sites that have a place where you can click to learn more about the product. Often they are “affiliates”; sites that get paid to direct traffic to another site. They make money if you go to the destination site. Do you think it’s in their best interests to write a nice review?

My mother taught me a saying: “Caveat Emptor”, or “Buyer Beware”. As an orthodontist with over 25 years treating bite-related pathology, I think that saying is apropos.

So, go cook up a Boboli, sit back and think about my cautionary words. Then go see an orthodontist for a free consultation. If after that visit you’ve still  convinced yourself that orthodontists are the kind of people who just want to overcharge you and that at-home, do it yourself aligner therapy is worth the cost, have at it, but remember…there are potential lifelong risks that will show up well after Smile Direct Club may no longer be around. That’s when you’ll probably go see your orthodontist, because in your heart you know they’re the experts on bite related issues.



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