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SmileDirectClub officially shuts down, leaving some customers in limbo – National

Customers of SmileDirectClub, the telehealth orthodontics provider of teeth-straightening aligners, have been left to fend for themselves amid a company shutdown.

SmileDirectClub announced in a statement posted to its website on Friday that the company made “the incredibly difficult decision” to immediately cease its global operations, which includes Canada. The decision comes less than three months after SmileDirectClub filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company functioned mainly by offering direct-to-consumer teeth aligners that were sent to customers through the mail. The service was designed to be more affordable, and more visibly subtle, than traditional braces.

SmileDirectClub purchasers would take their own teeth moulds at home in order to have their aligners custom-made. (If a user lived near one of several hundred “Smile Shop” retail locations, they could also have their teeth scanned there.)

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A traditional SmileDirectClub aligner cost around $2,830 — though financing options, including $115 a month for 28 months (with a $300 downpayment), were available to customers who wanted to spend less up front.


SmileDirectClub products.


Presley Ann/Getty Images for SmileDirectClub

SmileDirectClub was founded in 2014 and served more than two million people internationally, according to the company.

Now many of the company’s customers have been left in limbo, and without the finished smile they’d hoped for. Since users are typically required to wear their aligners consistently for four to six months, customers in the midst of treatments have been left by the wayside.

The company apologized and said it will no longer continue any treatment through its platform, including 60-day check-ins for aligner users. Its lifetime guarantee is also now void.

“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,” the company wrote.

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Customers in the midst of treatment will not receive new aligners to finish the course. SmileDirectClub said anyone who ordered an aligner, but had yet to receive the product, will have their order cancelled if it has not yet been shipped.

Anyone who financed an aligner from SmileDirectClub is “expected to continue to make all monthly payments until payment has been made in full,” the company said.

There is currently no avenue to obtain a refund from SmileDirectClub. The company said it will release more information after the bankruptcy process is completed.

SmileDirectClub did not respond to a Global News request for further comment.

When the company filed for bankruptcy protection in September, it had almost US$900 million (over C$1.2 billion) in debt, the New York Times reported. Still, it boasted glowing reviews from hundreds of thousands of users on its website.

However, while the company was still functioning, there were some complaints about SmileDirectClub’s services.

Many dentists and orthodontic groups openly expressed worry about the aligner products, and not only because they cost considerably less than getting similar brick-and-mortar orthodontic work completed.

As SmileDirectClub was announcing its shutdown, the British Dental Association said dentists will now be left to “pick up the pieces” from SmileDirectClub’s “wholly inappropriate treatment.”

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The association said it has raised concerns about advanced gum disease, potential tooth loss, misdiagnosis and a lack of informed consent allegedly caused by SmileDirectClub and its products.

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

In 2022, SmileDirectClub was also accused of “unfair and deceptive” practices by the District of Columbia attorney general’s office. The authority sued SmileDirectClub over the alleged use of unlawful non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that stifled negative reviews about their products, including reviews to regulators and law enforcement.

SmileDirectClub denied any allegations of illegal practices or shady behaviour, but settled with the district to the tune of US$500,000 (about C$680,200). SmileDirectClub also released 17,000 customers from NDAs.

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According to a New York Times investigation from 2020, some refund-seeking SmileDirectClub users were sent confidentiality provisions from the company. The provisions insisted the customer not share negative comments about the product and prohibited them from telling anyone about receiving a potential refund.

While active, SmileDirectClub sued numerous U.S. state dental boards and regulatory bodies for defamation and libel.

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