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  • Lloyd Price

Smile Direct Club: Canary in the B2C Digital Health Coalmine?



Exec Summary:


In December 2023, SmileDirectClub filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to shut down its operations. The company cited the ongoing challenges it faced from regulatory scrutiny, lawsuits, and declining sales.


While SmileDirectClub's story ended abruptly, the company's impact on the teeth-straightening industry was undeniable. It popularized the concept of at-home teeth straightening and demonstrated the potential of digital health solutions to revolutionize healthcare delivery. 


The company's legacy will also include the lessons learned about the importance of patient safety, regulatory compliance, and the need for a strong network of healthcare professionals.


SmileDirectClub's success has undoubtedly demonstrated the potential of B2C digital health solutions. However, the company's challenges also highlight the need for careful regulation and oversight in this rapidly evolving industry. As B2C digital health continues to expand, companies must prioritize patient safety and transparency in order to maintain public trust and ensure long-term success.


The FDA has been increasingly scrutinizing B2C digital health companies, and it is likely to continue to do so as the market grows. Companies that fail to adhere to regulatory requirements and prioritize patient safety could face significant legal and financial repercussions.


A Pioneer in Direct-to-Consumer Dental Care


SmileDirectClub, founded in 2014, has revolutionized the orthodontic industry by offering clear aligners directly to consumers through an affordable and convenient platform. The company's mission is to make orthodontic care accessible and affordable to millions of people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.


Impact on the B2C Digital Health Landscape


SmileDirectClub's success has had a significant impact on the B2C digital health industry, paving the way for other companies to offer direct-to-consumer healthcare services. The company's model has been particularly disruptive in the dental care sector, where traditional orthodontists have long dominated the market.


Canary in the Coalmine?


While SmileDirectClub has been a disruptor in the B2C digital health space, it has also been met with criticism from traditional healthcare providers and regulators. Some critics argue that the company's model may compromise patient safety, as it does not require in-person consultations with orthodontists. Others worry that the company's marketing practices may mislead consumers about the effectiveness and suitability of its clear aligners.


The Future of B2C Digital Health


The rise of direct-to-consumer healthcare is a trend that is likely to continue in the years to come. As technology advances and consumer expectations evolve, we can expect to see more companies offering convenient, affordable, and personalized healthcare services directly to consumers. However, it is important to ensure that these services are safe, effective, and aligned with the best practices of traditional healthcare providers.


Corporate Development for Healthcare Technology companies in EMEA


Healthcare Technology Thought Leadership from Nelson Advisors – Market Insights, Analysis & Predictions. Visit https://www.healthcare.digital


HealthTech Corporate Development - Buy Side, Sell Side, Growth & Strategy services for Founders, Owners and Investors. Email lloyd@nelsonadvisors.co.uk


HealthTech M&A Newsletter from Nelson Advisors - HealthTech, Health IT, Digital Health Insights and Analysis. Subscribe Today! https://lnkd.in/e5hTp_xb


HealthTech Corporate Development and M&A - Buy Side, Sell Side, Growth & Strategy services for companies in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Visit www.nelsonadvisors.co.uk



History of Smile Direct Club


SmileDirectClub was a teledentistry company that revolutionized the teeth-straightening industry. It was founded in 2014 by Jordan Katzman and Alex Fenkell, who envisioned a more affordable and accessible way to achieve a beautiful smile. The company introduced a system of clear aligners that could be prescribed and monitored by dentists remotely, eliminating the need for traditional braces and their associated inconveniences.


SmileDirectClub's early years were marked by rapid growth and expansion. The company's convenient and affordable services attracted a wide range of customers, and it quickly became the leading provider of at-home teeth straightening in the United States. By 2019, the company had over 2 million satisfied customers and was expanding into international markets.


However, SmileDirectClub's success was not without controversy. The company faced criticism from traditional dentists and orthodontists who argued that its teledentistry model was not as effective as traditional orthodontic treatment and posed potential risks to patient safety. The company also came under scrutiny from the FDA, which investigated allegations that its aligners were being prescribed for patients with complex orthodontic needs that were not suitable for at-home treatment.


In the face of these challenges, SmileDirectClub made efforts to improve its patient care and regulatory compliance. The company partnered with more dentists and orthodontists to provide in-person consultations and support, and it strengthened its quality control measures. However, these efforts were not enough to overcome the mounting criticism and regulatory pressure.


In December 2023, SmileDirectClub filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to shut down its operations. The company cited the ongoing challenges it faced from regulatory scrutiny, lawsuits, and declining sales.


While SmileDirectClub's story ended abruptly, the company's impact on the teeth-straightening industry was undeniable. It popularized the concept of at-home teeth straightening and demonstrated the potential of digital health solutions to revolutionize healthcare delivery. The company's legacy will also include the lessons learned about the importance of patient safety, regulatory compliance, and the need for a strong network of healthcare professionals.


Bankruptcy and Controversry


Smile Direct Club, a popular online dental care company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US in September 2023. The company cited nearly $900 million in debt as the reason for its bankruptcy filing.

Despite a months-long search for a partner willing to invest in the company, Smile Direct Club was unable to secure the necessary funding to remain operational. The company officially shut down its global operations on December 11, 2023.


The closure of Smile Direct Club has left many customers wondering about the status of their ongoing treatments. The company has stated that it will work with its existing customers to either complete their treatments or provide refunds.


Here are some of the factors that contributed to Smile Direct Club's bankruptcy:


  • Increased competition: In recent years, the direct-to-consumer dental care market has become increasingly crowded with competitors. This has made it more difficult for Smile Direct Club to stand out and attract new customers.

  • Negative publicity: Smile Direct Club has been criticized for its aggressive marketing tactics and the quality of its aligners. These criticisms have damaged the company's reputation and made it more difficult for it to retain customers.

  • Regulatory scrutiny: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating Smile Direct Club for allegedly making misleading claims about the effectiveness of its aligners. This investigation has added to the company's legal and financial woes.

The closure of Smile Direct Club is a significant setback for the direct-to-consumer dental care industry. It will be interesting to see how the industry evolves in the wake of this bankruptcy.



Canary in the B2C Digital Health Coalmine?


Smile Club Direct's collapse is certainly a significant event that could signal challenges ahead for the B2C digital health industry. However, it is too early to say definitively whether it will be a "canary in the coal mine" or simply a case of one company's missteps.


Smile Club Direct was a direct-to-consumer (DTC) dental plans company that offered affordable dental plans to consumers. The company grew rapidly in recent years, but it also drew criticism for its aggressive marketing tactics and its use of high-pressure sales techniques.


In 2023, Smile Club Direct was fined $25 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceiving consumers about its plans and services. The FTC found that the company had misled consumers about the coverage and limitations of its plans, and that it had used deceptive advertising to pressure consumers into buying plans they didn't need.


The FTC's ruling and the subsequent publicity surrounding it damaged Smile Club Direct's reputation and caused many consumers to cancel their plans. The company was forced to lay off employees and close several offices.


In April 2023, Smile Club Direct filed for bankruptcy protection. The company cited the FTC's ruling, the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased competition in the DTC dental plans market as factors that contributed to its financial problems.


The collapse of Smile Club Direct is a major setback for the DTC digital health industry. The company was one of the leading providers of DTC dental plans, and its downfall could make consumers more wary of signing up for these types of plans.


However, it is important to note that Smile Club Direct's problems were specific to the company itself. The company's aggressive marketing tactics and deceptive advertising practices were not the norm for the DTC digital health industry.


Overall, while the collapse of Smile Club Direct is a significant event, it is too early to say definitively whether it will be a "canary in the coal mine" for the B2C digital health industry. The industry is still growing rapidly, and there are many legitimate and successful DTC digital health companies. However, the Smile Club Direct case should serve as a reminder to consumers to be wary of DTC companies that engage in aggressive or deceptive marketing practices.


Here are some specific lessons that can be learned from Smile Club Direct's collapse:


  • Companies should be transparent about their plans and services. Consumers should be able to easily understand what is covered by a plan and what is not.

  • Companies should avoid using high-pressure sales tactics. Consumers should not feel pressured to buy a plan they don't want or need.

  • Companies should be ethical in their marketing practices. Companies should not make false or misleading claims about their products or services.

If DTC digital health companies can learn from Smile Club Direct's mistakes, they can avoid similar problems in the future and continue to grow and innovate.


Corporate Development for Healthcare Technology companies in EMEA


Healthcare Technology Thought Leadership from Nelson Advisors – Market Insights, Analysis & Predictions. Visit https://www.healthcare.digital


HealthTech Corporate Development - Buy Side, Sell Side, Growth & Strategy services for Founders, Owners and Investors. Email lloyd@nelsonadvisors.co.uk


HealthTech M&A Newsletter from Nelson Advisors - HealthTech, Health IT, Digital Health Insights and Analysis. Subscribe Today! https://lnkd.in/e5hTp_xb


HealthTech Corporate Development and M&A - Buy Side, Sell Side, Growth & Strategy services for companies in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Visit www.nelsonadvisors.co.uk



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