SmileDirectClub Battles On, Thrives

On November 13, 2019 the Nashville Business Journal published an update on SmileDirectClub’s (SDC) efforts to defend its direct-to-consumer dental aligners business model.

The corporation is fighting on multiple fronts. California recently passed legislation that restricts the “teledentistry” aspect of dentistry. As well, the state dental board in Georgia now requires a licensed dentist to be present in each of SDC’s “SmileShops.” Alabama is reportedly trying to implement a similar restriction.

The Nashville-based company is looking at a doubling of its legal bills in the fourth quarter of 2019. Nevertheless, its profitability continues to grow – an expected 78% increase over 2018.

What This Means For Dentists

There’s no way to know how the courts will eventually rule in the various cases that SDC is pursuing, but one thing is clear – it has a very large warchest, and while the cases are winding their way through the courts, SDC will continue to present a challenge to dentists who prescribe clear aligners.

Savvy dentists will take note of SDC’s competitive advantages (convenience and price) and take steps to neutralize those advantages in their markets. What SDC lacks is the personal touch and personal connection, and dentists can take advantage of those weaknesses.

If you’re not familiar with SDC’s model, it has its stores in various malls, chain pharmacies, and other high-traffic areas. One of their SmileAdvisors handles the sales aspect and takes a “digital 3D image” of their teeth. The entire process reportedly takes 30 minutes. 

In theory, those images are reviewed by a licensed dentist before manufacturing proceeds. However, SDC has over 1,000 complaints about failures in its service delivery system, quality control, and prescribing errors, among others. 

Trust And Communication Are Key

Private practice dentists can take a bite out of SDC’s impact by emphasizing the level of expertise and care that patients in your practice receive. There’s no substitute for an in-person examination by a skilled, licensed dentist. And when it comes to availability of care throughout the teeth-straightening process, the local dentist is only an easy phone call away and is almost certain to respond.

While the initial investment in clear aligners will be higher for the private practice dentist, the likelihood of a successful outcome is probably far higher. Other dental issues can also be identified and addressed during the initial consultation and later. 

For the segment of your market – some 20 – 40% – that isn’t primarily motivated by low price, you are the preferred provider. Your external marketing needs to speak to those prospects’ desires for the best care and the best outcome.

Let’s face it – it’s nearly impossible for an independent practice to beat SmileDirectClub on price. The economies of scale that SDC enjoys are simply too great. So don’t try; emphasize the advantages of choosing you and your practice. Create a value proposition that the “better” prospects in your market will respond to – trust, expertise, caring staff, close communication, and a comfortable practice.  

That’s how you can continue to thrive regardless of what SmileDirectClub and its imitators do in the future. And you’ll have plenty to smile about.