The Demise of SmileDirect

by Michael Abdoney - 01/05/2024 -Clear Aligners

In December of 2023, SmileDirect Club announced that it was terminating its operations the world over. On the heels of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing just a few months before, this announcement nevertheless came as a shock to many current customers. Told they were no longer subject to the "Lifetime Smile Guarantee," these consumers also lost access to the company's customer support infrastructure. Left in a confused state of limbo, these same customers are still on the hook for previously delivered services even though SmileDirect can no longer supply any assurances that its shipped teeth-straightening teeth aligners can perform safely and according to promised results.

History of SmileDirect

A pioneer in the tele-dentistry field, the SmileDirect Club was established in 2014. It enjoyed early success, particularly after its promotion by a satisfied professional basketball player. Riding this momentum, the company expanded into the English-speaking world. Utilizing 3-D printer technology, SmileDirect made clear aligners for their customers while affording them some access to professional orthodontists through telephone and virtual communications. This appealed to many who would rather not endure the time or expense of office visits nor suffer the inconvenience of fitted braces.

People could also buy SmileDirect products at well-known retailers. In 2019, the SmileDirect Club went public, boating of assets worth nearly nine-billion dollars. However, legal troubles loomed from challenges brought about by disaffected customers and the dental establishment. The company's inability to absorb the costs of these lawsuits contributed to its bankruptcy and subsequent dissolution.

How It Worked

SmileDirect customers would purchase a three-dimensional oral image -- either at a brick-and-mortar outlet nearby or obtained through a kit prescribed and purchased online. With the customer's oral profile in hand, the company would then tailor a treatment plan, reviewed and endorsed/rejected by an affiliated orthodontic professional. If the plan received a green light, the patient/customer was informed of how the treatment would move the teeth into place. Part of the package involved periodic reviews by the dentist and a new retainer sent every six months.

The Downfall

No sooner had SmileDirect gone public with its stock that the share price began to decline -- precipitously. By 2022, the losses amounted to 86.4-million dollars. Meanwhile, it was fending off lawsuits and public criticism from parties as diverse as dissatisfied customers, the District of Columbia attorney general and the British Dental Association. Among the complaints were the side-effects like acute gum disease. The money spent in court and trying to preserve its public reputation was too much for an enterprise that was sinking in value. Hence, the bankruptcy and shutdown.


Dentists and orthodontists generally approve of tele-dentistry -- as long as it works in conjunction with regular office visits. The arms-length treatments offered by SmileDirect are not sufficient since so many irregularities must be viewed with the naked eye. In the meantime, customers wait -- perhaps in vain -- for refunds while still others still owe on products and services already rendered. Is this an "I told you so" moment for local orthodontists around the country?