A recent article in the Boston Globe takes a deep dive into SmileDirectClub (SDC) and the current controversy over clear dental aligners – a state of affairs made even muddier by the revelation that “an influential Boston orthodontist came to the rescue of the controversial industry.”
According to the Globe, Dr. Marc Ackerman is the director of orthodontics at Boston Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor with Harvard School of Dental Medicine. He’s strongly in favor of the “teledentistry” model, and even told the Globe that he wants to be known as “the father of teledentistry.”
The article is lengthy, but thorough and well worth reading. To summarize, Dr. Ackerman’s ties to SmileDirect Club are numerous and poorly disclosed. And he authored an article in support of the teledentistry industry that was published in the fairly obscure Journal of Dental Research and Reports that offers swift review in exchange for payment.
The Battle Rages On
SDC is beset on many legal fronts and is tenaciously fighting back. One of the ways that it seeks to control the public conversation about its business model is by citing Dr. Paul Glassman of the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry, who conducted teledentistry research.
However, Dr. Glassman’s research included X-rays and a direct, in-person examination of the patient, something that is missing from SmileDirect’s online screening protocol. According to the Globe, Dr. Glassman stated, “The more you deviate from that system [we tested], the less you could claim that you’re following the standard of care.”
It seems certain that the controversy, and the legitimacy of the teledentistry industry, will not be resolved soon. In the meantime, dentists all over the country are finding their prices on clear aligners undercut and potential patients showing up at SmileShops instead of their practices.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, for most dentists to match SDC’s advertised price of $1895 for clear aligners. Likewise, the convenience of having just one fairly brief appointment with no follow-up appointments is a big selling point for busy, budget-minded patients.
Regardless of your take on the teledentistry model, you’re likely to believe that patients are safer and realize better outcomes when they’re personally examined and treated by a licensed dentist. That’s what you can promote to your prospects – that the process of straightening their teeth will be safer and that they always have a point of contact who they already know for any questions or concerns.
To that end, familiarize yourself with some of the most frequent complaints about SmileDirect – that patients often have no contact with a dentist from beginning to end of their treatment; that SmileDirect is reportedly unresponsive to inquiries, complaints, or attempts at problem resolution; and that a growing number of patients have experienced serious and expensive complications from the teledentistry model.
These are ideas that you can communicate in your blog and your social media posts. They’re controversial ideas, which means that you can expect to have a lively online conversation about the benefits of receiving orthodontic treatment from you… rather than faceless, anonymous people who aren’t responsive to patients’ needs.