Have you ever heard of at-home teeth-straightening?
In advertisements on social media, SmileDirectClub promises a better smile for a fraction of the cost of treatment by a traditional orthodontist.
However, some customers say, instead, they were left in worse shape than they started.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray found that many orthodontists and several members of Congress are sounding the alarm about the at-home teeth straightening platform.
Sharon Snowdale visited an orthodontist after trying to fix her teeth with SmileDirectClub aligners. Instead of an improved smile, Snowdale has teeth breakage and gum problems, according to Mouhab Rizkallah, an orthodontist in Somerville, Massachusetts.
“She’s just smashing into her front teeth when the weight is supposed to be on your back teeth,” Rizkallah said.
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SmileDirectClub sends a kit to customers to make a mold of their teeth. SDC orthodontists create a treatment plan, then ship aligners to customers’ homes.
“It’s very different. It’s very DIY,” said Charis Brown, who is three months into her treatment with the company. “I had braces as a kid and, of course, I didn’t wear my retainers, and so they shifted. I thought, ‘Well gosh, this seems to be a cheaper way to get them straight again.’”
Brown said that so far, she was having a good experience.
“My teeth are a little straighter, which is great,” she said.
But she said that she sometimes worried if she made the right decision.
“It’s kind of concerning in the back of my head,” she said. “Am I really messing up my teeth by doing this by myself?”.
Channel 2 Action News wanted to know, so we asked Atlanta orthodontist Meagan Sturm.
“In some patients, it is very simple. But in some patients it’s not,” she said.
Sturm showed Channel 2 Action News pictures from a patient who came to her after using SmileDirectClub for almost one year.
“She's at the end of her treatment and her teeth aren't straight,” said Sturm.
Consumers have filed more than 1,800 complaints about SmileDirectClub with the Better Business Bureau.
Last month, nine members of Congress, who are also all medical professionals, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration asking for an investigation into the company.
“Most people think that if it’s advertised on TV, advertised on the internet, that it’s been approved,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga. “That’s not the case.”
In a phone interview with Channel 2 Action News, a SmileDirectClub spokesperson said that the BBB complaints represented just a small fraction of their 750,000 customers.
“The overwhelming majority of the customers who have used our platforms are incredibly happy,” said the spokesperson.
But the American Association of Orthodontists started running social media ads of its own, warning consumers of the risks at-home aligners like SmileDirectClub.
“Before you didn’t have a problem, and now you’ve caused a problem,” said Sturm.
SmileDirectClub countered that orthodontists’ concerns were really about money.
“It’s in the orthodontists’ self-interest to make statements like that,” said the company’s spokesperson.
Charis Brown told Channel 2 Action News that she planned to continue using her SDC aligners, but that she did wonder if she would end up back at the orthodontist in the end.
“You just can’t get your teeth back if they’re really messed up,” she said. “That is very concerning to me as a consumer.
The FTC and FDA both confirmed to Channel 2 Action News that they received the letter from the Congress members. The FDA said it was reviewing the letter and would respond directly to Congress.
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