SmileDirectClub – Teeth Aligners With a Smile

If you are of a certain age, your original encounters with the medical profession were in-person and formal. I still chuckle at the scene from The Simpsons where Marge takes the kids shoe shopping, and she wants each kid to have “a good sturdy pair of shoes to visit the doctor.” Seeing dentists and orthodontists back in the day was the same.

However, if you are younger, the wonders of telehealth are easier to grasp.

I wanted to find out about the process of teeth straightening in the modern world, and SmileDirectClub was the obvious place to start.

The first step is for the company to get a sense of what they can do for you, and that means getting an impression of your teeth. That can be done in-home or via a visit to a pop-up office. I chose the latter, but in the interest of research I was given an opportunity to try the former. In the case of the in-home process, I was shipped a set of materials to get the impressions.

The company’s purple design style pervades all designs, including the casts made of my teeth.

The process for the scheduled visit was very efficient and comforting. A well-trained technician explained the entire process, as well as the timing and steps needed by the patient for success. The technician used a handheld gizmo about the size of a hotdog to make a 3-D image of my teeth, which I saw being created on the screen next to me. The image was later reviewed by a dentist who would oversee my treatment.

SmileDirectClub offers two approaches, one requiring a 22 hour a day commitment to the aligners and the other a 10 hour per day (essentially overnight) commitment.

The expectation is that with patient compliance, the longer daily commitment guarantees results of straight teeth in 4 to 6 months. If the goal is not attained, the company’s guarantee means they will send subsequent aligners until the goal is reached.

I was confident in the technician’s expertise and understanding of the process. Within about three days after my visit I received my supply of aligners. The well-designed collateral material and related products offered a comforting congruity to the program.

I was interested in the competitive landscape, and the company’s website had some answers.

The online nature of the company allows for a steady touch from the company, reminding you of timing to put in the next aligners and allowing you to account for any backsliding (I did go on vacation without my aligners).

As the weeks went by, I looked forward to putting in the new aligners. With supportive updates SmileDirectClub tells you exactly when to move to the next aligner, and there is a satisfying sensory experience when you put in the new aligner. It is just a bit firmer than what you’ve become accustomed to and you get the intuitive sense that in reality, albeit imperceptibly, the teeth are becoming straighter.

Once I became acclimated to the fact that I was receiving medical care without an office visit (and without my sturdy shoes), I was curious about the process from the company’s side.

I had a chat with Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, Chief Clinical Officer. He was a wealth of information. He became involved with SmileDirectClub through a unique background with corporate entities providing increasing access to care, including dental insurance and managed care. He has held positions from Medical Director to VP of Aetna’s dental division, and all the way to CEO.

As a result of these roles, he became increasingly familiar with making clinical experiences more convenient and cheaper for patients. He was a member of a dental practice with 200 offices when he was approached by SmileDirectClub and joined in 2017.

“There is always inertia in making things more convenient when quality is to be maintained,” Dr. Sulitzer explained. “Technology enables that. Dental insurance creates avenues to access to care. Like any disruptive technology, people don’t like it initially. Restorative techniques in cavities are an example of things getting better, the practice of dentistry now has more effective filling materials. Another example is how dentistry now strives to preserve teeth rather than deploy dentures. All of this is leading to telehealth. We consider telehealth more efficacious, which is to say more clinically effective.”

Dr. Sulitzer described how other digital medical technologies can be provided synchronously or asynchronously. Radiology and dermatology saw the first advances in telehealth. The doctor can spend more time analyzing the evidence without the time pressure of the patient being in the room.

“Covid accelerated everything, including telehealth,” confirmed Dr. Sulitzer. “Disruption is one of the brighter sides of Covid. The acceptance by doctors and patients of telehealth is getting broader. Mental health a great opportunity as well.”

My account at the SmileDirectClub website tracked my progress. It included the original scan of my teeth and a time lapse of the progress. I found the whole SmileDirectClub process quite easy, and getting the background from Dr. Sultzer was edifying.

Even if I did not have to wear a pair of sturdy shoes at any time.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.