People who sought straighter teeth with invisible aligners from SmileDirectClub could be in a tough spot, now that the company has announced a complete shutdown just a couple months after filing for bankruptcy.
On its website, the company explains that customers of SmileDirectClub won’t be able to receive any more aligners or customer care, regardless of where they are in their treatment path. The company also expects customers to continue their payments, meaning all existing patients with a payment plan are currently still on the hook for whatever they owe. An average treatment length is four to six months but can run up to two years for some patients.
Invisible aligners have become a popular teeth straightening treatment in recent years because clear aligners are a more subtle alternative to traditional orthodontic services. Remote companies like SmileDirectClub don’t require any in-person appointments, in contrast to companies like Invisalign, which requires some in-person appointments and fittings with a doctor.
But SmileDirectClub has been accused of some unfair practices, including in a lawsuit alleging the company made unsatisfied patients sign NDAs, according to different media reports. Shortly after its bankruptcy filing and before its shutdown, the company was still running discounts on upfront payments, Axios reported, encouraging more people to make full payments rather than monthly installments.
SmileDirectClub says in its FAQ that more information will become available “once the bankruptcy process determines next steps,” meaning expectations around payments and other instructions on how to tie up loose ends — perhaps for the people left in the middle of their treatment — may change in the weeks to come.
Until then, here’s what to know about payments and what to do for treatment.
Do you still have to pay if you’re a SmileDirectClub customer?
The company says yes. Patients who’ve been making payments under the SmilePay plan are “expected to continue to make all monthly payments until payment has been made in full,” SmileDirectClub says in its FAQ. For people with questions about that, the company directs you to contact Healthcare Finance Direct, which appears to manage SmileDirectClub payments, at 877-874-3877 or email@example.com.
This is where it gets more sticky. On its own information page for SmileDirectClub customers — which was active when this article was first published on Dec. 13, but as of Dec. 15 is 404ing — HFD said that it was “hopeful” SmileDirectClub will come up with a plan to offer support to customers and maintain existing treatment plans. But accounts have been transferred to a new creditor, and failure to make payments will result in your account going to collections, which hurts your credit score.
“Even though SmileDirectClub is closed, you are obligated to continue paying for the aligners you have already received per your signed Retail Installment Contract,” HFD said.
What about retainers or aligners you haven’t received yet? HFD said that you should continue making your monthly payments, but that the company is reviewing all of its SmileDirectClub accounts and working with the company to see that people who never actually received aligners are “appropriately refunded.” HFD said the same goes for down payments — they’re working with SmileDirectClub to make sure customers who didn’t receive retainers get their money back — but only SmileDirectClub processes these payments, so it’s unclear on what HFD will be able to do about it.
So, as of right now, it seems you are likely still legally responsible for payments owed to SmileDirectClub. But because HFD and SmileDirectClub say some details are still a work in progress, it’s possible that may change for some customers. If you’d like to try to fight your case, call 877-874-3877 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Didn’t finish your treatment? Consulting a doctor or dentist should be your next step
If you’ve already started your teeth-straightening journey and still have a ways to go, SmileDirectClub says you should see your local dentist or doctor for next steps.
There are other direct-to-consumer invisible braces companies, such as Byte. But generally, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before trying any other aligner treatment, according to the American Dental Association. Without naming SmileDirectClub, the ADA said Tuesday that it’s reaffirming its stance that it “strongly opposes offers of direct-to-consumer dentistry because of the potential for irreversible harm to individuals.” Without a proper examination of someone’s oral health, moving teeth carries risk of receding gums, bite problems, bone loss and more, the ADA said in a statement.
Dr. Myron Guymon, president of the American Association of Orthodontists, said that aligners are a “very appropriate treatment when they’re prescribed correctly,” but that they’re just one way to straighten teeth. What’s right for the patient will depend on their baseline diagnosis and examinations by a doctor, which direct-to-consumer companies can’t provide.
“We’ve had a concern with this business model for a long, long time,” Guymon said. “There are some safety parameters here that weren’t met.” Guymon recommends SmileDirectClub customers see an orthodontist, a doctor that specializes in teeth and jaw alignment, and directed people to the AAO’s orthodontist finder.
Where to get another consultation
In its own statement Tuesday, the AAO said that some orthodontists with the organization may offer free consultations, which would be a baseline visit. But you’d need to call around ahead of time to see which doctors offer this.
OrthoFX is offering free consultations and treatment assessments to people who were SmileDirectClub customers. The company is also offering “special financing options and flexible payment plans” for SmileDirectClub customers, according to a press release.
OrthoFX requires in-person appointments with a dentist for fittings with the aligners you’ll wear at home. If you’re interested in the consultation, you can fill out the company’s online form. Pricing, per the company’s FAQ page, starts at $2,950 or $89 a month.
You may also consider looking into Invisalign — the big name that’s led the clear-aligner movement and requires in-person care and fittings with a doctor. Invisalign defers its payment estimates to the provider who treats you.
Correction, Dec. 14: This story initially reported the timeline of SmileDirectClub’s practices incorrectly. The company was reportedly still running discounts on upfront payments after filing for bankruptcy and before shutting down. The story also described OrthoFX’s shipping process incorrectly. OrthoFX aligners are sent to the customer’s doctor.