By Maxwell Rotbart
Just as Uber and Lyft upended the taxicab industry, the traditional model of providing orthodontic care is in the midst of a revolution.
On the frontlines of these ‘OrthoWars’ are a number of upstarts that offer do-it-yourself orthodontic molds that patients can use at home to align their own teeth, ostensibly saving them time and money spent at the dental office.
Even dentists who do not provide orthodontics are sure to be asked by their patients to weigh in on the growing trend.
One dental startup, Candid Co., whose entrepreneurial founder, Nick Greenfield, was an early employee at Lyft, has been drawing the attention of a variety of news organizations, including Fast Company and CNBC.
As Greenfield told Fast Company, he saw an opportunity to lower the cost of orthodontic dental care for working individuals who needed braces as adults. He launched Candid in 2017.
According to Oral-B, typical metal brackets cost patients between $3,000 and $7,000, with Invisalign®-style adjusters, such as the ones Candid is delivering, costing up to $7,400.
Candid, which accepts insurance, offers its services, which include remote dental consultations, for $2,000.
Other do-it-yourself orthodontic companies offer similar pricing. SmileLove, depending on the payment plan, offers its kit and aligner for $1,700. SnapCorrect offers corrective care for just over $1,800, and the SmileDirectClub charges (again, depending on the payment plan) about $1,850.
[Yet another company, Swanky Smiles, is using mobile orthodontic offices staffed by dentists who promise to give "patients straight teeth in half the time and half the appointments for less than most traditional orthodontists".]
Despite the significant savings in cost, do-it-yourself orthodontics has strong detractors. A spokesperson for the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) told Fast Company that, without an in-office dental visit, it’s possible that patients will have undiagnosed cavities:
“The worst thing you can do with a cavity is seal it under a plastic liner, because that will advance the rate at which the cavity becomes worse.”
The AAO representative goes on to say that, “despite the appearance of progress, dental care without x-rays is a step ‘backward’ in dentistry to a time before radiography became the industry norm.”
Critics notwithstanding, Candid is jostling with the SmileDirectClub for control of the marketplace.
According to an August 2018 article from Racked, a Vox Media publication (that went out of business in September 2018), Candid is marketing itself as different from the more-established SmileDirectClub because it only treats adults and only uses orthodontists as consultants (as opposed to general dentists).
On its blog, the SmileDirectClub distinguishes itself from Candid, in part, with its less expensive pricing and variety of payment options, including accepting CareCredit. SmileDirectClub also offers brick-and-mortar stores where consumers can buy its do-it-yourself orthodontic molds. (Candid, too, plans to open physical stores in the coming year.)
According to CNBC, the orthodontics business is huge; in 2017, Invisalign owner (and SmileDirectClub minority owner) Align Technologies saw the greatest growth of all S&P 500 companies. [Racked notes that Align had sued SmileDirectClub for patent infringement before getting into business with it].
The legal maneuvering between traditional orthodontics providers and start-ups such as Candid hasn’t halted the financial successes of the newcomers.
As of November 2017 - one month after the expiration of some of Invisalign’s patents - Candid had raised $17 million in capital from Greycroft Partners, Bessemer, e.ventures, and Arena Ventures, according to Business Insider.
In July 2018, Brides Magazine promoted Candid, Invisalign, and SmileDirectClub in its “Makeup & Skincare” section online.
And, in October 2018, CNBC named Candid one of 100 companies that “have quickly become entrepreneurial success stories worth keeping an eye on.”
Reviews of Candid have tended to be positive, with former Oprah.com web producer Ashley Sepanski gushing on Greatist.com (for which she now writes):
“Consider a program like Candid that you can manage from start to finish from the comfort of your own home. I feel better about my smile already, and it's only a month into my plan. Maybe it'll do the same for you too.”
Still, the American Dental Association has said that do-it-yourself orthodontics is “strongly discourage[d].”
SmileDirectClub is already engaged in lawsuits against several state dental boards - including a libel suit in Michigan and a challenge to a rule in Georgia that mandates the presence of a licensed dentist when making digital scans (SmileDirectClub offers this service, with a technician, in its physical facilities).
Author: Contributing writer Maxwell Rotbart specializes in covering business, education, and history-related topics. He is the author of The State of Israel: Prime Ministers, available from Amazon.com.
Other Recent Incisor Articles by Maxwell Rotbart:
- Twix or (Lemony) Treat? Why Dentists in Cajun Country Are Likely to See More Cracked Teeth
- Kids Teaching Parents How to ‘Floss.’ Too Bad No Teeth Are Involved.
- The Dental Clinic of Tomorrow is Seeing Patients Today
- Tiny Iceland’s World Cup Hopes Rest in the Hands of a Dentist
- The Plight of One Dentist and his $1 Million Student Loan Debt
- Dental Office’s Warning Letter to Parents Ignites a National Debate