Smile Direct Club Dentistry Aligners Firm Shuts Down.

Getty Images

 Smile Direct Club has closed after filing for bankruptcy in the United States, leaving some customers confused and stranded as their treatment is ongoing.

Renowned for its remote clear aligner sales, the company has announced its decision to cease operations, citing the "incredibly difficult decision" made late on Friday.

The US-based dentistry firm, recognized for providing aligners at approximately £1,800 without the need for in-person dental visits, faced insurmountable debt, leading to the failure of a last-minute rescue effort.

Established in 2014, the orthodontics company positioned itself as a disruptor to the conventional "bricks-and-mortar" dental model. Traditional dentistry involves dentists or orthodontists fitting "train-track" braces or clear aligners after an in-person consultation, a process Smile Direct Club aimed to reshape.

Many customers were attracted to Smile Direct Club due to its lower pricing and the convenience of taking aligner molds at home. Treatment duration typically ranged from four to six months, with customers engaging in online check-ins with registered dentists.

The company asserted on its website that it has "enhanced more than two million smiles and lives." However, customers in the US, UK, and other locations are facing confusion as the firm announced the discontinuation of its customer support line, leaving individuals seeking check-ins or adjustments for their aligners in a predicament.

Smile Direct Club advised those wishing to proceed with their treatment to contact a local dentist. The announcement that the previously touted "lifetime smile guarantee" is no longer valid has irked some customers. Additionally, individuals with existing payment plans are expected to continue making payments.

The company promised more details on refunds as the bankruptcy process unfolds and "next steps" are determined.

Deeply Displeased by Treatment

On Facebook, numerous users expressed concerns about their ongoing treatment and voiced dissatisfaction about recent payments. One user lamented, "Disgusting how we have all been treated... I only just signed up for my aligners, made my first payment and now I won't even be receiving my braces." Another individual shared that their wife had paid for the entire treatment and now faces uncertainty about receiving a new retainer.

On Instagram, a customer, expressing frustration, asked, "I did six months [of] treatment - and now what? I can't finish?... This is heart-breaking."

In an apology statement on its website, Smile Direct Club acknowledged the inconvenience caused. Consumer law expert Lisa Webb from the organization Which? commented that many customers would feel "adrift" due to the company's financial collapse.

Lisa Webb, a consumer law expert from Which?, noted that potential refunds, if available, would be handled by liquidators. However, she cautioned that customers would likely be positioned at the end of a lengthy line of creditors, reducing the likelihood of substantial refunds.

Webb suggested that individuals in the UK still awaiting products, with orders not canceled and paid via credit card, could explore reclaiming their money through Section 75 under the Consumer Credit Act.

Smile Direct Club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in late September, a move that grants the company a reprieve from immediate obligations to creditors, allowing time for debt reorganization or business asset sales. Unfortunately, a last-minute rescue attempt was reported to have failed on Friday.

Attorney Spencer Winters informed a bankruptcy court judge that efforts to secure fresh funds and buy Smile Direct Club out of bankruptcy, orchestrated by its founders, fell through. The deal was hindered as the company couldn't garner agreement from its crucial lender, despite intense efforts throughout the week.

Once valued at up to $8.9 billion, Smile Direct Club struggled to achieve profitability and faced nearly $900 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy. Challenges included patent disputes, as well as concerns from dentists about issues such as poorly fitting aligners, claims of permanent nerve damage, and tooth loss.

Despite being buoyed by selfies and positive online reviews, the company faced a range of challenges. It consistently defended its practices, asserting that licensed professionals review customer treatments, and risks are transparently disclosed.