12 Dec 2023

The Oral Health Foundation has raised alarms over the recent closure of SmileDirectClub, leaving a significant number of patients in a precarious position.

The charity believes the abrupt closure of the direct-to-consumer aligner company has left patients uncertain about the continuity of their dental care and orthodontic treatments.

The Oral Health Foundation is concerned by the potential consequences of patients being left without proper guidance and support midway through treatment plans. The charity is also deeply troubled by the financial impact of patients being abandoned, with many having paid out thousands of pounds.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: "The closure of SmileDirectClub has created an upsetting situation for many patients who were undergoing dental treatments. We are extremely worried about what impact this will have on the oral health and mental wellbeing of thousands of people currently undergoing treatment.

"Our hearts go out to the patients who placed their trust in SmileDirectClub. The sense of abandonment they now face is truly distressing.

"It is infuriating to see patients left out in the cold, ripped off, and left out of pocket. The financial losses some patients might now incur are inexcusable, and it's a stark reminder of the consequences when companies prioritise profits over the wellbeing of those they serve."

SmileDirectClub initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in September, citing a substantial debt of more than £700 million.

Despite an extensive search spanning several months, the company disclosed on last Friday that it was unsuccessful in securing a partner willing to inject sufficient capital to sustain its operations.

Upon its initial public offering in 2019, SmileDirectClub commanded a valuation of approximately £7 billion. However, the company experienced a significant decline in stock value over subsequent years, grappling with persistent financial losses and grappling with legal challenges.

In the fiscal year 2022, SmileDirectClub reported a notable loss of almost £70 million.

“It all leaves a very bitter taste,” adds Dr Carter. “Patients have been left in the lurch and it will now no doubt fall on orthodontists to rescue the situation for those SmileDirectClub customers who remain unhappy with their smile.

“Patients who are already rightly feeling let down, angry and frustrated will now be in a position where their treatment will not be completed as quickly as they thought. They are also facing further costs. Patient expectations will need to be delicately managed.”  

The Oral Health Foundation has previously expressed concerns about the remote provision of plastic aligners, citing concerns about the potential risks of misdiagnosis. These concerns were communicated to the regulatory authorities.

In 2021, the charity launched Safe Smiles, a campaign to help patients make safer choices when it comes to their dental treatment. The campaign stresses the importance of having dental treatment in dental practices and the benefits of it being carried out by trained and registered professionals.

Receiving overwhelming endorsement across the dental industry, the campaign was a response to concerns to the growth of direct-to-consumer alternatives, with the charity worried about more patients potentially being in danger.

Patients looking for advice about seeking orthodontic treatment should visit www.dentalhealth.org/safe-smiles-seeing-a-dental-professional.