I know orthodontists generally hate SmileDirectClub but let me tell you what fully decentralized orthodontic treatment may look like in the future:
Imagine you want straighter teeth and so you go into a mall where you sit in a photo booth type setup where you have an automated scan of your teeth and photos taken. Then the scan and photos are reviewed in real time, remotely by a licensed dental professional (by that time the law may not even require a dentist to do so) and a tech sets up your case for clear aligner therapy (also reviewed by the dental professional in a matter of minutes). Once the case and setup are approved, you insert your credit card and the 3D printer (also part of the mall kiosk) prints out and distributes your first set of aligners so you can start treatment immediately and the remaining aligners are mailed to your house. Follow up and monitoring are done via teledentistry (read smartphone). As a customer this sounds pretty sweet right?
A large employer, school, civic group, religious group or any other mass of people in a small geographic area buys scanner(s) and 3D printer(s). As a perk of being part of their group or an employee they offer very low cost or even free, convenient orthodontic treatment with clear aligners for you and your family. Once you’ve had your photos and been scanned, all the group needs to do is contract with or employ a licensed dental professional to review cases and have an agreement with one of any number of companies who setup aligner outcome plans to set up the case and send the file to their printer. At some point it’s highly logical that AI will replace both dental professionals and setup techs in this and Scenario #1. Again, follow up is done via smartphone (excuse me, I meant teledentistry).
I’m sure many orthodontists see this as shocking and even horrific, but I’ve been predicting this for several years and I don’t see any reason to believe decentralization of orthodontics will not follow the pattern established in hundreds if not thousands of other industries. Of course there will always be people who want to see an orthodontist in person and there will always be cases where aligners are not appropriate so don’t lose heart. Also, no one knows how long it will take to accomplish true decentralization of orthodontics so instead of fretting it’s vital to understand that massive change is coming and figure out how to provide what consumers want so they want to come see YOU. SmileDirectClub is not bad or evil or wrong… it just is.
SDC isn’t going anywhere and it’s just the tip of the decentralization iceberg. The awesome news is that as orthodontics becomes decentralized and more affordable in terms of time and money, the vast majority of people who want straighter teeth can and will have a great smile! As orthodontists, shouldn’t that make us happy?