We live in a very fast-paced culture—we want everything quickly and cheaply. Sometimes this is wonderful, but the problem happens when companies offer discount solutions on your health and the health of your mouth. SmileDirectClub is offering such a discount, but it’s important to know all the downsides and risks associated with it and why seeing a legitimate dentist, like Dr. Mas’ood Cajee DDS, MPH in Manteca, CA, is the safest and most effective way to have the smile of your dreams.
What Is SmileDirectClub?
SmileDirectClub offers consumers 3-D printed aligners that claim to straighten the customer’s teeth in as little as six months. Customers have a do-it-yourself dental mold kit sent to their homes. The customer takes a mold of their mouth and sends it back. The company examines the mold so they can, according to their website, “see exactly what’s going on”. They send you a picture of what they think your smile will look like after treatment and, if you like the image, they send you a series of aligners.
They also pair you with a dentist or orthodontist that checks in with you every 90 days, remotely, to monitor your progress. Once they determine your treatment is complete, you can buy a retainer to keep your smile the way they’ve left it. Sounds great, right? Not so fast…
What’s the Downside?
There isn’t just one, there are several.
The profession of dentistry is based on the doctor/patient relationship. The doctor receives all the education and training necessary to address their patients’ needs. SmileDirectClub has created a company/consumer relationship, and that can be dangerous when dealing with your mouth health. When you buy from a company, they play the number. They want to make most people happy and satisfied but understand some just won’t be and aren’t bothered by individual needs.
If you’re one of the consumers that ends up unhappy with their services, it could mean your teeth are damaged, or worse, falling out. That’s a risk they’re willing to take. Because you’re just a customer, there is no relationship to understand your specific needs, your lifestyle or your expectations.
If something goes wrong, if you don’t get the results you want, if something hurts—there’s nobody to see. The dentist they pair you with every 90 days is seeing so many people, impersonally, there no chance for a relationship to form. This leaves you in charge of your dental health without ever having gotten any training.
Are There Risks?
There are many risks in trusting your smile to a DIY program. The minute a computer is more responsible for your smile than a person is, you’re opening yourself up to potential risks.
Your Roots and Bones
Starting at the top is the fact that the mold of your teeth is the only tool being used to determine how to straighten your teeth. The molds they send you are solely based on your teeth they can see, but that’s only half the picture. It’s critical to know what your roots are doing to understand fully how your teeth will respond to treatment and how dynamic that treatment needs to be.
Think of it as a company wanting to fix your foot by looking only at your toes, it neglects a large part of the picture necessary to provide successful treatment. A computer is doing 3-D modeling, so it makes the assumption your bone will grow with your teeth, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, as the company makes clear, they’re not practicing medicine.
Doctors Not Practicing Medicine
Another big concern is that a company that employs doctors is making it explicitly clear they are not practicing medicine. When you see a dentist in person, you know you’re being treated by a doctor with years of education and training who uses all the tools at their disposal to make sure you’re cared for and get the best possible results.
Some people will be attracted to this kind of mail-in teeth straightening because it’s cheaper and they may think their teeth don’t need that much work. The issue with that is, without training, none of us is qualified to say how minimal a fix we need. Always keep in mind, as dentists and orthodontists know, when you slightly move one tooth, the whole mouth can shift.
Results using these types of aligners can be really hit and miss because everyone responds differently to a treatment. It’s an impossible task to get consumers to monitor their own dentistry. Making sure you have a good relationship with a dentist will also allow you to express concerns to him and understand what’s normal and what isn’t.
Lack of Progress
Some of the biggest issues for past customers of SmileDirectClub have been the inability to get any answers when concerns pop up, progress isn’t being made, or by the end of “treatment” nothing has changed. Past customers have said they couldn’t get an answer when their new aligner was causing them a lot of pain and the company wouldn’t replace it.
There are the stories of customers who just had very little to no results, even after several attempts at treatment. At the end of the program, they determine, via picture or mold, if your teeth have moved in a way that’s considered successful to them, and if they have, you’re not getting a refund. And then there are the horror stories.
If something is going really wrong in your treatment, how can you know? You can describe your symptoms to the dentist you talk to once a quarter via teleconference, but explaining what’s happening will never be as effective as your dentist being able to see for himself. This company has one tool in their arsenal for progress—a plastic aligner. A dentist has many tools and techniques to get you to your goals.
More than lost money or poor customer services, some customers have suffered significant injuries from this program.
This is when things get scary. Because they send customers a series of aligners they have to wear for a few weeks, then move on to the next one, with no real dentist accountability, serious issues are arising. Customers are supposed to wear these at all times with the exception of eating and brushing their teeth—pretty straight forward, right? Well, we’re human.
Some people have gotten their aligners, worn them a bit but taken them out for much longer than they’re supposed to. To make up for it, they will wear that specific aligner a few days longer than suggested. What’s essentially happening in their mouths is a constant wiggling of their teeth. Wiggled teeth become loose teeth and loose teeth can fall out—in less than the 90 days between dentist teleconferences.
Because they’re not seeing a dentist with whom they have a relationship, there’s no doctor to monitor patient accountability. As patients, we need to take an active role in our tooth health, and that’s something we understand. As customers, we’re just using a company’s product, and that’s an important distinction to be aware of.
After paying the full price of treatment, this company may tell you that your treatment is complete and your smile is fixed. But something doesn’t feel right. This has been well documented with past customers who paid for the aligners and later had to visit a dentist. They ended up having even more treatment than they would have if they had just gone to a dentist off the bat.
One customer ended up with a tooth slightly elevated in a way that prevented his other teeth from coming together. This was not an issue he started with—he just wanted a small amount of straightening. If you go looking, you’ll hear a lot of these stories. People believe and trust that this company has their best interests at heart, and while we don’t think the company is being malicious, they can never replace a relationship with a dentist.
They offer a warranty lasting 30 days. Many customers have issues happening around day 60 or 90. If your treatment gets off track with a set of pre-fab aligners, it may be very difficult or even impossible to get back on track. If one set doesn’t fit and there’s a delay in your next set, by the time they actually arrive your teeth will have already shifted, starting a dangerous cycle.
Other Potential Risks
If you read the agreement a customer has to sign to buy their aligners, the potential risks are severe. These may be risks inherent to anyone undergoing this kind of treatment but because there is no relationship with a dentist, there’s nobody to tell if what’s happening could lead to a severe side effect. If you’re receiving treatment from an in-person dentist, they can head trouble off at the pass.
Here are a few of their self-proclaimed risks associated with their aligners:
- Periodontal and gum disease
- Shortening of the roots
- Nerve damage
- Possible replacement of previous dental work
- Impacted teeth
Many of these side effects wouldn’t become serious if there were regular appointments with a dentist who can see what’s happening with your individual treatment.
Risk vs Reward
It can be very enticing to think of paying a fraction of the price of traditional teeth straightening, but for every reward, there’s a risk. Not having a relationship with a dentist means there will be details you won’t share with a remote dentist, because you may not feel comfortable and that can cost you in the long run.
We always feel more comfortable talking about real issues with dentists and doctors we have a personal relationship with because we know our dentist wants everything to work out for us. It’s their work they’re standing by, and they’ll do everything they can to ensure they do their job well. A company is just a company.
Price can be prohibitive, but many dentists have financing options for patients, and if you’ve been living with a slightly imperfect smile for a while, you might be better off waiting until you can afford traditional services instead of risking causing more damage and a bigger bill in the long run.
Call for a Consultation
One of the best ways to understand the condition of your smile, what it will cost and what your choices are is to form a relationship with a dentist. Give yourself the benefit of choosing a highly trained and experienced dentist so you know you’re in capable hands.
Call the office of Dr. Mas’ood Cajee, DDS, MPH in Manteca, CA and schedule an examination to understand your options. He and his staff are committed to the health of your smile and will be with you every step of the way.