Mail Order Braces: Is your smile worth the discount?

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Monday, Oct. 23, 2017
(News 12 at 6 O'Clock / NBC 26 News at 7)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A smile is priceless so the idea of getting the perfect smile through the mail, sounds good, almost too good to be true.

Not everyone can afford the thousands of dollars it costs for braces or well-known products like Invisalign which is why Smile Direct Club hit the market.

Smile Direct Club allows you to bypass the orthodontist along with the bills.

The American Association of Orthodontists has lodged complaints against Smile Direct Club in 36 states, including Georgia and South Carolina. It alleges the company is creating medical risks by bypassing the doctors.

On Your SIde wanted to know is the board trying to stop its competition or is there really a risk? We found someone who put her smile to the test.

"I feel like it gives everyone a confidence boost," Robin Burns said. "I have three of four children in braces," she added.

Burns, herself, didn't feel the need to see an orthodontist for her own bottom teeth.

"My teeth were starting to overlap. A lot of the front ones were just shifting around."

An ad caught her eye. Smile Direct Club told her it could give her her smile back at a fraction of the cost.

"I was getting quotes from about $5000 from a regular orthodontist to do Invisalign and it was $1500 to do Smile Direct," Burns said.
 
In January, she started treatment.

"I just felt really confident in seeing all of this that this would work out."

Fast forward eight months and several aligners later and, at first look, it appears to have worked out beautifully. Her smile was back but at an even bigger cost than the aligners.

"My molars do not come together even now. Now, when I chew food I have to gum it instead of chew it," she said.

Burns contacted Smile Direct to tell them she lost her bite in the process of getting her smile. The company replied they were reviewing her case in the summer. A month later Smile Direct e-mailed her a reminder of the consent form she signed months earlier which reads "your bite may change as you transition." Smile Direct also told her "remote clear aligners are alignment only and do not move molars."

Burns sought help from an orthodontist after treatment with Smile Direct.

"She signed her life away by agreeing to the treatment," Dr. David Carter said.

He says Burns is one of the several patients who has come to him after using Smile Direct.

"They tell the consumer, 'hey, just send us all the impressions of your teeth and we will make you some aligners and we will mail them to you' they're not really looking at some of the underlining problems like the bone around the teeth, like cavities, like gum disease, whatever."
 
Dr. Carter found an even bigger problem when he took an x-ray of Burn's mouth.

"There is no bone around the teeth. She is probably going to lose her lower front teeth because of this," he said.

Dr. Carter believes he would have seen this on the first visit and would have been able to treat before giving her aligners.

"It takes the healthcare provider out of the equation and that's very important that's why the state boards are worried."

Georgia and South Carolina are two of 36 states where the American Association of Orthodontists is asking the board dentistry and attorney general to investigate Smile Direct for allegedly violating state dental law and endangering patients.

"My regular dentist kind of advised me against this and I thought he was just trying to get the orthodontist work," Burns said.

Smile Direct takes orthodontists out of the equation which in turn takes patients out of their offices.

Liz Owens: "Do you have motivation because you're losing money to Smile Direct?"
Dr. David Carter: "Right, which is why we started our own 3D printing lab."
   
Just this year the patent on Invisalign's aligners expired.

"I think they are here to stay, I just think we need to find a better product for the consumer and get the word out that doctors are involved now not something we are outsourcing out to a lab," Dr. Carter said.

"I've had dreams of walking at my daughter's wedding with no teeth but I do feel with the technology that even if I do lose my teeth that implants but had I known I would have never gone this way," Burns said.
  
On Your Side reached out to Smile Direct Club but is still waiting to hear back. This summer, Alaska sent a cease and desisted to Smile Direct.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends patients to seek treatment with a board certified orthodontist so that they get the benefit of ongoing supervision.