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SmileDirectClub Shuts Down

Amid a company shutdown, SmileDirectClub, the telehealth orthodontics provider known for its teeth-straightening aligners, has left its customers to navigate their orthodontic journeys independently.

The announcement of the immediate cessation of global operations, including Canada, was posted on SmileDirectClub’s website on a Friday. The company cited this as an incredibly difficult decision, which comes just under three months after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

SmileDirectClub primarily provided direct-to-consumer teeth aligners delivered by mail, offering a more affordable and discreet alternative to traditional braces. Customers could take their own teeth molds at home or visit one of the “Smile Shop” retail locations for a teeth scan.

The standard cost of a SmileDirectClub aligner was approximately $2,830, but financing options were available, including a $115 monthly payment plan over 28 months with a $300 initial payment. Founded in 2014, SmileDirectClub served over two million people worldwide.

However, with the company’s sudden shutdown, many customers find themselves in a state of uncertainty, unable to complete their orthodontic treatments. Typically, users were required to wear the aligners consistently for four to six months, leaving those in the middle of their treatment stranded.

SmileDirectClub issued an apology and announced the discontinuation of all treatments through its platform, including the 60-day check-ins for aligner users. The lifetime guarantee is now null and void. Customers in the midst of treatment will not receive new aligners to complete their courses, and orders not yet shipped will be canceled.

Customers who financed their aligners are expected to continue making monthly payments until the full amount is paid off, with no immediate avenue for refunds. More information regarding refunds will be released after the bankruptcy process concludes.

When the company filed for bankruptcy protection in September, it had accumulated nearly $900 million (over C$1.2 billion) in debt, as reported by the New York Times. Despite this, SmileDirectClub had garnered positive reviews from hundreds of thousands of users on its website.

During its operational phase, SmileDirectClub faced criticisms and concerns from dentists and orthodontic groups. These concerns ranged from worries about the effectiveness of aligner products to potential health risks. The British Dental Association, in particular, expressed concerns about advanced gum disease, potential tooth loss, misdiagnosis, and a lack of informed consent related to SmileDirectClub and its products.

In 2022, SmileDirectClub faced legal action from the District of Columbia attorney general’s office, which accused the company of engaging in “unfair and deceptive” practices. This included alleged unlawful non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prevented negative reviews about their products, even to regulators and law enforcement. SmileDirectClub settled with the district for US$500,000 (about C$680,200) and released 17,000 customers from NDAs.

A New York Times investigation in 2020 also revealed instances where SmileDirectClub customers seeking refunds were sent confidentiality provisions by the company, preventing them from sharing negative comments or discussing potential refunds.

During its active period, SmileDirectClub engaged in legal battles with numerous U.S. state dental boards and regulatory bodies, suing them for defamation and libel.

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