Does Smile Direct Club live up to its promises?
What Is Teledentistry?
Invisible orthodontic devices, such as Invisalign, are touted as a subtle, expedient, and effective way to straighten crooked teeth. They offer minimal impact to the wearer’s aesthetics, which is one of the biggest selling features for the consumer. Thousands of everyday consumers, celebrities, and social media influencers strongly support the results of invisible orthodontic devices. Teledentistry has changed the delivery and application process of these devices.
Visiting your orthodontist was once the only way to receive treatment with invisible braces and retainers. The orthodontist would ensure a precise fit for devices and monitor both the device and the patient’s dental health and response throughout the treatment process.
Today, a plethora of companies skip the invaluable fitting and monitoring of orthodontist visits. Instead, these companies offer invisibles direct to the customer for unmonitored, at-home treatment. Smile Direct Club is one of the most popular of these teledentistry companies.
How Does Smile Direct Club Work?
1. Teeth impressions are made at either a SmileShop location or with an at-home impression kit; in either case, the impression is turned into a 3D image.
2. A Smile Club dental professional analyzes the image to either develop a treatment plan or inform the consumer that they’re not a candidate for Smile Club.
3. If a candidate, Smile Club mails out a set of invisible aligners to gradually move the teeth into the correct position over a prescribed duration.
4. If overcrowding or oversized teeth are involved, Smile Club sends stripping papers to make more space or reduce the size of certain teeth.
5. At the end of treatment, a set of retainers are purchased and worn for a prescribed amount of time.
Smile Direct Club Pros
Teledentistry companies offer some appealing pros for the consumer looking to straighten their smile with invisibles, including:
- Convenience: Mail-in aligners and retainers enable consumers to effortlessly treat themselves without scheduling routine appointments with an orthodontist.
- Speed: Clear aligners can achieve results in a fraction of the time of traditional orthodontic devices. Smile Direct Club purports that the average correction time is just six months. Metal braces, however, are usually worn for an average of 24 months.
- Price: Price is a major motivator in whether or not a person chooses to correct their smile. At an initial price point of around $1,800 and $99 for each set of retainers, Smile Club claims to cost around 60 percent less than traditional orthodontic treatment, which isn’t always the case.
Why Smile Direct Club Advantages May Be Misleading And Disappointing
The above advantages can be very appealing, but the negatives of teledentistry may make convenience, speed, and price a moot point. In fact, a number of experts caution that orthodontics and dentistry simply involves too many circumstances that could go wrong to ever become virtual services. A look at some of the disadvantages of mail-in aligners and retainers help to solidify this point:
1. Clear Aligners Aren’t Always An Appropriate Treatment
According to the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, tipped teeth at an angle over 45 degrees, tooth extrusions partially displaced from sockets, and rotated teeth misaligned over 20 degrees are all orthodontic situations best left to the professional care of traditional braces. Children’s teeth are still growing, which makes treatment a complicated process and precision necessary for the best results. This is why most dental professionals recommend traditional orthodontic devices for young patients.
2. Mail-in Treatment Leaves Dental Health Issues Unaddressed
While most teledentistry companies, including Smile Direct Club, advocate for their consumers to regularly seek professional dental care, it doesn’t put them in a professional’s chair before nor during the at-home treatment. This means that underlying dental issues like gum disease, poor bone architecture, oral cancer, and infections often go undiagnosed and untreated, which can lead to serious health complications and major medical costs.
3. Lack Of Professional Guidance
While Smile Direct Club offers a customer support line, such can never replace in-person access to orthodontic and dental professionals for treatment questions, concerns, and direct examination for problems. If something does go wrong with the at-home treatment, such as a faulty impression, the cost savings with at-home treatment are often mooted by having to then still seek additional professional treatment and correction.
4. No Checks And Balance System
The consumer is trusting in a chain of events without a checks and balance system to ensure appropriate treatment. If the impression was off or the interpretation of the impression was off, then the consumer is left wearing a device that could be doing more harm than good. With traditional orthodontic treatment, routine visits offer a checks and balance system to ensure treatment is going as planned and yielding the best results.
In closing, teledentistry services from providers like Smile Direct Club may be adequate, but, the complexity of orthodontics means that even the most ideal candidate for teledentistry still leaves themselves at risk without the professional assessment, monitoring, and supervision of an orthodontist.