While some are doing damage to their teeth with the aligners, orthodontists say many more, like 52-year-old Peter Quattro, have paid for a product that doesn’t work at all.
Mr Quattro started at-home treatment with Smile Direct Club in 2019. Although the company offered in-person 3D scans as an alternative to DIY moulds, when the businessman received his aligners in the mail, he soon had problems.
“They were flimsy, they were ineffective. They buckled when you put them in your mouth,” he said.
Mr Quattro said the aligners cut his gums, causing pain because they weren’t moving his teeth.
“It just progressively just got worse every time,” he said. “My teeth weren’t ready for the next aligner – they had not done what they were supposed to do.”
A survey conducted by the Australian Society for Orthodontists in October 2020 found 35 per cent of orthodontists who responded had treated a patient in the past 12 months following failed use of at-home aligners.
It’s now calling on the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to follow the lead of the UK’s dental regulator in warning the public that there was “no effective substitute for a physical, clinical examination” when assessing someone for braces or aligners.
But the medical watchdog said it had no plans to provide specific advice on the issue of direct-to-consumer aligners.
”AHPRA and the boards do not regulate products or the businesses supplying them,” a spokeswoman said.
Consumers can report to the agency individual dentists and orthodontists who work for direct-to-consumer brands, but only if they received the individual’s names and registration number.
Australia’s consumer watchdog has taken action over the marketing of some products. Last month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched court proceedings against the Australian arm of Smile Club Direct for misleading customers about health insurance reimbursement, while last year it fined Australian company EZSmile for misleading consumers about the fact its aligners had been manufactured in China.
A lawyer for Smile Direct Club said the company could not comment specifically on Mr Quattro’s case for privacy reasons, but labelled the warnings from the orthodontic society as a “self-interested attempt by an industry body representing traditional (bricks and mortar) orthodontists to maintain their members’ share of orthodontic treatments in Australia”.
“Our client’s network of affiliated dentists and orthodontists, who provide treatment using our client’s teledentistry platform and clear aligners, are dental care professionals who are qualified and registered in their local jurisdictions,” the lawyer said.
Dr Holmes denied the society’s warnings were protectionist. “[That’s] kind of nonsensical because in fact, these products are driving more work to our practices because we end up picking up [the problems],” he said.
EZSmile declined to comment. Wondersmile and Byte did not respond to requests for comment.
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