Orthodontists hate Smile Direct Club because…

Bring up “Smile Direct Club” (SDC) to most orthodontists and they get really angry. Many will start trembling with rage and you might even see some start frothing at the mouth. You’ll start hearing things like: “How is it legal?” “Why hasn’t the state board shut them down?” “Patients need to be educated about why it’s so awful for them.”  Orthodontists take it as a personal affront that this “evil” company would dare besmirch the profession that we all hold in such high regard. The online fights have been epic, rivaling any Ali-Frazier contest.
So let’s discuss why everyone shouldn’t be getting angry. I’m not saying that I like the idea of orthodontist-less aligners to straighten teeth, nor am I agreeing that any sane individual should choose that option, but they are. In droves. To the tune of $20 million/month at this moment. So, I ask all of my peers: Are you offended as a professional or as a business owner? You don’t know the differences? You better.
I’ve posted this previously and it bears repeating.

  1. 1.
    a person engaged or qualified in a profession.

We all went to school to become “Professionals”. Sure, you could also call yourself a “Specialist” but for the sake of this discussion, it doesn’t matter. We take pride in what we do because we essentially went to Grade 23 to get our degrees and we care about our patients. We struggle over the minutiae of the bite and smile esthetics and most of my colleagues are great people who do the best they can for their patients. So, they become understandably upset when a company comes a long and says: “We don’t care about the bite and we know that all you (the consumer) want is a straight smile, so we’ll happily give it to you. Oh, by the way, you don’t even need a dentist or orthodontist and it’s 30% of the regular price.”  I get that we’re angered that someone has “cheapened” the profession, but do we really have a right to be upset as business owners? After all, these patients who “trust” us and “love” what we do are choosing a technology to bypass us because they feel they do not need us.
News Flash: Someone came up with a cheaper alternative to meet the consumer’s needs (only a straight smile) and the profession did nothing to stop it, knowing that it’s been coming for years. Very few orthodontists read the business journals that mentioned it BEFORE it became a huge company. Now that it’s here, all they want to do is pout that it shouldn’t be allowed and that consumers should see it for what it is. But it is and they aren’t…at least not yet.
Ask Kodak how it felt when digital technology replaced film. Or hotels when airbnb formed. Or Swiss watch makers when quartz movement was invented (in Switzerland, I might add and they passed on it because it wasn’t “craftsmanship”). Or taxi drivers when uber came out. Or how about Orthodontists when Invisalign came out? The list goes on and on back to the days when the car was invented and everyone else was in the horse business.  Disruption happens and we have no right to confuse professional disdain for business innovations.
I genuinely giggle when I  see people screaming about Smile Direct Club. It’s here and it ain’t going away (at least as of this writing), so you better have a strategy. If it’s deemed illegal and the dental boards somehow stop it, or patients have terrible experiences and nobody wants it, OK. But, is that your business strategy? If your bank asked you how you planned on handling this new technological competitor to your business, would you actually sit there and tell them that you can’t understand how it’s legal and it should go away?!?!
You think I’m using hyperbole? I recently met a representative for an orthodontic company who asked every one of his orthodontists what set them apart and why they would succeed. Their answer? Every single one of them? “We give the patients exceptional new patient experience different than other offices and a great outcome. We are also fun. We are unique.” Yes, like everyone else.  The reason he shared this with me  was because I was the only one who had a different answer and he visibly jumped back when I surprised him. My answer? “I have a written marketing and business strategy to grow my business and grow my market share.” You see, most orthodontists look at the profession first and the business second. But as the old saying goes: “No money, no mission.”
Unless you work for an employer and that’s the career path that led you to become an orthodontist, you are a business owner, first and foremost. Don’t believe me? I want you to focus solely on becoming the best clinician in the world. Just that. No marketing, no HR issues, no leadership, no management. Just clinical. Forget google reviews and Facebook groups and patient testimonials. Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years if you follow the idea that you’re a professional before a business owner? And there lies the problem; Smile Direct Club offends orthodontists because it doesn’t involve a professional and the outcomes are less than ideal a lot of the time. But it is a great business model and I envy the chutzpah of those who thought of it. They are great business owners with a great marketing strategy. And they’re killing it. And as as many of my peers have found out, the state dental boards do not want to get involved.
So, I ask you again: Are you offended as a professional or as a business owner? As a professional, sure, tell your patients to rally against SDC and complain to the state boards. But, as a business owner, which is what allows you to perform your profession, develop your strategy to deal with (note that I didn’t say “compete” or “adopt”) this new market disruptor and realize that you are a CEO of a company whose employees count on you to make the right decisions for their future.
And keep in mind the words of John Foster Dulles, the former US Secretary of State:”The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”
One year from now, SDC will likely still be in existence. Will you still be dealing with it, or will you be thriving? The choice is yours.
All the best,
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