SmileDirectClub shuts down months after filing for bankruptcy, leaving many in the lurch

SmileDirectClub shuts down
(Image: SmileDirectClub)

Less than three month after filing for bankruptcy in September 2023, remote invisible aligners treatment company SmileDirectClub has confirmed that it would shut down its global operations in a FAQ page on its website published on 8 Dec.

A statement published read: “SmileDirectClub has made the incredibly difficult decision to wind down its global operations, effective immediately. For new customers interested in SmileDirectClub services, thank you for your interest, but aligner treatment is no longer available through our telehealth platform. For existing customers, we apologize for the inconvenience, but customer care support is no longer available. Thank you for your support and letting us improve over 2 million smiles and lives.”

Accompanying the statement were a series of FAQ for customers concerning payments and order fulfilment. All orders placed for SmileDirectClub aligners but have not yet been received have been cancelled without further details. SmilePay customers were expected to continue making monthly payments where service provider HFD contact information was referred. More information is expected to be released once the bankruptcy process determines next steps and additional measures customers can take.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) offered guidance to patients impacted by the recent closure of SmileDirectClub through a statement issued on 14 Dec.

“The best thing SmileDirectClub patients can do at this point is to book an in-person exam with a licensed orthodontist in their area,” said Myron Guymon, DDS, MS, President of the AAO. “Most SmileDirectClub patients have not had an x-ray or in-person exam, which are critical to ensuring an accurate diagnosis and safe and effective treatment plan.”

The AAO issued a series of steps for affected parties. For patients with complaints, including those who may be unable to contact the dentist that was supervising their SmileDirectClub treatment, AAO recommends reaching out to state dental boards that have individual complaint processes for dental treatments. If finances are a concern, the AAO urged to ask about complimentary consultations offered by many AAO orthodontists when booking an appointment with a local licensed orthodontist.

The AAO also advised caution of other mail-order orthodontic companies feeding on SmileDirectClub’s failure, and emphasised the importance of an in-person examination and x-rays before starting any orthodontics with a provider to avoid irreparable harm.

“We are committed to helping SmileDirectClub patients navigate through this challenging situation. Our members are available to provide the care and support patients need to achieve a healthy and confident smile,” added Dr Guymon.

As reported by local media outlet NewsChannel 5, former employees like Melissa Malingowski who worked at SmileDirectClub for nearly six years were left in a lurch with the sudden closure.

“About 12:30pm, they pulled us all to the floor and were like: ‘Hey, we’re closing operations like, immediately. Everybody go home. I was balling. I lost it. We also found out later that they had originally wanted us to continue working through the end of the day. People just lost their livelihoods, and you want us to continue making a product that is not going to go anywhere?” Malingowski said.

“Honestly, they made it sound like we were going to be fine. We were restructuring everything. W would be good. We were literally told business as usual. And with the sudden closure, some of us have 401ks, and we do not have access to them. For me, they said effective immediately — this is your last paid day, and we were supposed to get paid at the end of December, and I cannot pay my rent in two weeks,” Malingowski said.

SmileDirectClub was co-founded in 2014 by Jordan Katzman and Alex Fenkell, based in Nashville, Tennessee, US. It reportedly served over 2 million people since its by selling clear dental aligners directly to consumers as a faster and more affordable alternative to braces.

The company was valued at about US$8.9bil after its stock began trading publicly in 2019 but its value fell over time as the company proved to be unprofitable, losing $86.4mil in 2022.

SmileDirectClub was also involved in lawsuit over unfair practices after a 2020 report from The New York Times revealed that the company tied confidentially agreement to some refund. The District of Columbia attorney general’s office sued the company in 2022 where they were required to release more than 17,000 customers from the agreements and pay $500,000 to the district.

SmileDirectClub filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of September with the company reporting nearly $900mil in debt at the time.

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