Align's Decision Will Be Good For Orthodontics

As you read this, keep in mind the prescient words of Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen:
“The reason why it is so difficult for existing firms to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their processes and their business model that make them good at the existing business actually make them bad at competing for the disruption.”
If you’re an orthodontist, you can’t escape the fact that something big happened this week. It was Invisalign’s announcement that they were no longer going to accept Trios scans after January.
Many of my peers were apoplectic. Accusations of unethical behavior were being thrown around. Open letters were being written. I’ve received dozens of personal messages from doctors asking me what they think they should do now that they bought a Trios. It’s as if the future of orthodontics and clear aligner therapy (CAT) itself hangs in the balance.
I’ve suggested that this should be a NON-emotional time for orthodontists to look brightly towards their futures. I submit that while this is a tough decision for us to swallow in the short-term, it’s going to be great for us in the long-term. Why?
Judging by the outcry of Trios users who were upset about the new Align policy, a huge number of our profession are using Invisalign to serve our patient’s needs. Sure, there are some folks who refused to use them because of disagreement on company policies or because of cost or inexperience, but I surmise that Align’s market saturation in orthodontic practices is pretty solid. But the reaction from our profession demonstrates that most (notice I didn’t say “all”) providers were pretty comfortable working with Align and didn’t have an active back-up plan in place and counted on Align for most or all of their clear aligner therapy needs.
Don’t believe me? Look at the results from a Google Trends search for “Invisalign”, “Clear Aligners” and “Clear Correct”. The results of marketplace dominance are clear.
Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 8.05.03 AM
You may recall my post about Google Trends from a few months ago. The “100” is the benchmark standard illustrating when that search term has been searched the most in its history. All other percentages are compared to that. It’s clear that Invisalign isn’t even in the same league as other aligner systems, including the infamous (or maybe not so infamous based on search results) Smile Direct Club.
However, while Orthodontists have overwhelmingly made Invisalign their product of choice, the marketplace for direct to consumer clear aligner therapy has exploded with too many clear aligner options to keep track of. Take a look at the results for the search “clear aligners” and see the ads and search results. Not an orthodontist in site.
Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 7.58.37 AM
So, while consumers are looking to many options as alternatives to orthodontists for clear aligner therapy, orthodontist became heavily reliant on one company.
This past week, the Social Media posts were chock full of complaints about Align and their previous decisions and how they were an “unethical” company with a “lack of integrity” and “no principles”. Yet, the statistics would show that the overwhelming percentage of orthodontists continued to work with Invisalign, residencies teach how to use Invisalign and doctors are racing to open Invisalign-only clinics as consumer demographic shifts see indicate an increase in demand for CAT. So, as someone newer to orthodontics, I ask two questions:
1. How did the profession get so reliant on Invisalign as a product, especially considering how upset many are with older decisions Align has made?
2. Why did the newest policy seem to be the tipping point?
I can’t answer the first question, because I haven’t been an orthodontist for the last 15 years. I can’t answer the second question because I’m not angry at Align. Yes, me and my partner own an iTero AND a Trios, but I see this as a business decision by Align. No more, no less. They made a decision and I need to evaluate it rationally and guide my practice accordingly. I’ve always been open to other technologies that serve my practice, but like many of you, I haven’t found one that supplants Invisalign as a “finished”, workable product. But Align’s latest inexplicable decision may change that.
In my search for experts for the Orthopreneurs meeting next year, I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat with many smaller companies (and some  bigger ones) that have been working on CAT options but haven’t been able to get a foothold because of clinician’s reliance (and tacit loyalty to) Invisalign. This announcement has created a great deal of marketplace uncertainty and caused many to seek alternative solutions and it’s an innovator’s dream. Companies are launching CAT programs, existing programs are getting more notoriety and we’re about to get what I’ve heard everyone on social media beg for: Competition in the CAT marketplace.
I predict that the next 3-5 years are going to bring remarkable change to our profession, specifically with regard to CAT, 3D printing and accelerated technological Innovation. I still don’t understand what caused Align to make this radical shift in policy, but like baby birds being pushed out of the nest to take their first flight, I think that this decision will force our profession and companies that support CAT to take giant leaps forward. The $20,000-$30,000 spent on the “wrong” scanner will end up being a forgotten issue 3 years from now.
For a while, I’ve heard everyone complain about Invisalign, their policies and how they wish there was an alternative. Well, you’re gonna start seeing them pretty soon but you have to keep your eyes open and your’e gonna have to take some leaps that you may not be 100% comfortable taking. And don’t rule out Align matching the changes in the marketplace. But if you look towards the future of CAT open to all the possibilities that are about to come your way, you’re going to love the way companies use this same announcement as a way of presenting you options you never previously considered.
Remember Professor Christensen’s quote from the beginning of this article and don’t look at what you’re doing today. Look at what you could be doing tomorrow and make it a reality. We live in very interesting times.
Wishing you an amazing day,
signature 2
If you want to come to learn more about an amazing business meeting for orthodontists, simply visit . We’ve got a world-class lineup of speakers, amazing food and an ambiance that will make you want to come back year after year. You can always email me at or message me on Facebook. I’m here to help.
Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 6.27.32 AM