In October of 2017, something big happened in the world of clear aligner orthodontics: the patent rights on Invisalign® expired. This opened the legal floodgates for other businesses to begin selling aligners made with the same technology. Almost a year later, the market is now flooding with new clear aligner providers. Some of these offer a legitimate and less-expensive substitute to the original aligner-orthodontics treatment. However, some of these services fall under the “too good to be true” category, Smile Direct Club especially.
At a first glance, Smile Direct Club seems like a great direct-to-consumer product. Perhaps you’ve seen their advertisements on television? The customer receives a dental impression kit to use at home and mail directly to their offices. Your aligners come in the mail, and, several months (or years) later, you will have straighter teeth. It seems simple, but the truth is that orthodontic treatment is not that simple. There is a reason why orthodontists must assess each candidate individually, using more than just a dental impression mold.
How Are Smile Direct Club and Invisalign Different?
The biggest difference between our Invisalign dentist in Scottsdale and Smile Direct Club is the role of your care provider. With Invisalign, your treatment comes with the discretion and monitoring of an experienced dentist or orthodontist. With Smile Direct Club, a “remote dentist” is only involved during the diagnostic stage of treatment. Most patients never get a face-to-face meeting and cannot access a dentist when they encounter problems.
By cutting the doctor out of the equation, Smile Direct Club claims they can charge patients up to 60 percent less than Invisalign. The only problem with this scenario, however, is that trying to go through a course of orthodontic treatment without a dentist is a bit like trying to have knee surgery without a surgeon. If your knee looks and acts exactly like an illustration in a textbook, you may be able to figure out how to do the surgery yourself; but most bodies (and most teeth and jaw bones) have unique characteristics. None of us fit a cookie-cutter mold, especially when it comes to our tooth alignment and supporting facial bones. Starting a course of improperly diagnosed orthodontic treatment can have disastrous effects on your oral health, sometimes years or decades later.
Assessing Your Candidacy
With Invisalign, your dentist takes a close look at your case to determine whether Invisalign is a good fit for your malocclusion problems. We examine your facial anatomy, bone structure, oral health, and dental health history. We also look at how your teeth fit together when you bite down. Many of these factors cannot be observed by looking at a dental impression you did yourself at home. Without a dentist or ortho specialist to look closely at all these details, your alignment problems may be misdiagnosed and your treatment plan may not be effective. Aligner treatments are not ideal for every case, and if a provider is not held accountable for your results, there’s no telling what you might get.
Treatment Planning and Monitoring
With Invisalign, we take a three-dimensional scan of your mouth to get the best digital imaging of your unique tooth alignment and bite. We also assess your oral health and bone health with the use of x-rays. These scans help us chart your treatment appropriately and plan the final projected outcome of your treatment. The aligners enact gradual changes on your teeth alignment until your ideal smile slowly comes into place. Smile Direct Club claims to use the same process, but the truth is that many customers have found that their aligners don’t fit tightly, and sometimes even move teeth inappropriately—leaving their smile worse than when they started.
If you have a problem or concern during Invisalign treatment, you will have a doctor on your side to hear your concerns and help you find a solution, face-to-face, one-on-one. Maybe the aligner is irritating your gum tissue? Maybe you are noticing a new gap that wasn’t there before you started treatment? With Smile Direct Club, your only recourse in situations like this is a customer service hotline that does not include any trained doctors available to discuss your case. If you read reviews online, you’ll find many, many horror stories from Smile Direct Club customers who faced this scenario. They tell stories of having to stop treatment mid-course because the company did not respond appropriately to their needs. Many continued to be billed despite their impediments to finishing the treatment and had no recourse.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Smile Direct Club and Invisalign is the number of happy Invisalign patients versus the number of vocal unhappy Smile Direct Club customers. At present, Invisalign has helped more than 5 million Americans improve their smiles. One of the reasons why Invisalign works so well is that once you pay for the treatment, it doesn’t end until your ideal smile is achieved.
Are Dentist-Free Aligner Treatments Safe?
If you read the material available on Smile Direct Club, they do not claim to be “dentist-free” treatment, because your case is assessed by a remote dentist. Your dental impression is sent to a doctor, who will determine whether you are a good candidate for their product. However, without x-rays, an oral exam, regular check-ups on your orthodontic progress, and a dentist you can talk to directly—that’s really what it is: dentistry without a dentist.
There are several things that can go wrong if you try to complete a course of aligner orthodontics without the supervision and monitoring of a doctor.
- Your teeth might move improperly, or not at all.
- Your aligners might not fit properly, and may damage your gums.
- You may develop oral health problems that don’t get noticed.
If your oral hygiene slips, you may wind up with rapidly advancing dental decay or staining that leaves your smile looking far worse than when you started. Clear aligners make your teeth more vulnerable to bacteria because they deprive them of contact with your saliva. This means that regular check-ups at the dentist are more crucial than ever when wearing clear aligners. Go here for Invisalign frequently asked questions.
Research Patient Results from Third-Party Sites
If you see advertisements for Smile Direct Club and are tempted to consider their services, do yourself a favor and search “Smile Direct Club reviews.” Once you get past the company’s own posted testimonials, you’ll see reviews on Consumer Affairs and Yelp! that show a broad range of issues their customers have faced. There’s no way to predict whether your treatment experience will be a good one, and many patients have had unsatisfactory results for the reasons we explained above.
If you are thinking about using aligner treatments to straighten out your smile, contact Scottsdale, AZ dentist Rod W. Gore, DDS. We’ll give you the straight story on what to expect from aligner orthodontics and explain your options. Call us at 480-585-6225 to set up a risk-free consultation. We’ll diagnose any existing alignment problems and help you understand your options for treatment.