Startups That Straighten Teeth Are Now a Big Competition to Orthodontists

It’s now easier than ever to have straight teeth. In the past, metal braces installed in a dentist’s chair were the only way to treat misaligned teeth. But a new method that makes use of removable clear aligners eliminates the need to visit an orthodontist, which saves patients a lot of money. This is what triggered Deniece Hudson, who always wanted to have straight teeth, to visit a startup company known as the SmileDirectClub.

A graduate of the Georgia Southern University, 24-year old Deniece Hudson decided to visit one of the retail outlets of SmileDirectClub in a mall in Atlanta to get her teeth scanned. The experience turned out to be her only personal interaction with a medical professional during the 9-month journey in the thriving field of tele-orthodontics.

After the scan, SmileDirectClub used a 3D Printer to produce 24 trays of plastic braces that were delivered to Hudson through the mail along with instructions on when to change trays. Dentists closely monitored Hudson’s progress through the selfies that she sent them over the Internet. The only thing she knew was the last name of the physician treating her.

According to her, she trusted the company enough and believes that they will give her a dentist who knows exactly what he or she is doing and not someone who’s incompetent. The entire program costs $2,170, which is less than what a traditional orthodontist would charge. Another option would be to go to traditional orthodontists that use the high-tech Invisalign procedure, such as the Invisalign Hong Kong.

With only one month to go for her program, Hudson is quite pleased with the results so far. Hudson says she used to feel very nervous but now she’s always smiling. And although Hudson is quite happy with the program, a good number of orthodontists are not pleased. In fact, they have warmed patients about the danger of undergoing complex medical procedures without the supervision of a dental professional. The trade association of orthodontists has, in fact, filed a complaint against the SmileDirectClub accusing them of statutory and regulatory violations.

A clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Department of Orthodontics believes that it’s not entirely possible for a diagnosis to take place in only three clicks. She alleged that companies like SmileDirectClub are treating patients as mere customers or clients.

There are about 300 million people all over the world who suffer from teeth misalignment and may be able to benefit from straightening, yet they are not open to the idea of seeking treatment from a traditional dentist’s office. This was according to the February securities filing of Align. Furthermore, according to the Allied Market Research, the industry of global orthodontics, including traditional braces, is expected to increase to $2.6 billion by 2023.

SmileDirectClub is, by far, the most prominent of all the growing startup companies seeking to capture the thriving orthodontics market. Since its launch in 2014, the company is said to have treated around 250,000 patients already, although they refuse to release their sales figures.