How Alex Fenkell and SmileDirectClub are Rethinking the Orthodontic Industry

Over 50 million people want a new smile. However, for many years and for many people, the process of getting one has been much easier said than done. 

In fact, in six out of 10 American counties, there are no orthodontists. For Americans in the four out of 10 counties that do have access to orthodontic care, it can be prohibitively expensive, extremely uncomfortable, and require huge amounts of time for both the treatment itself and the visits to the orthodontist’s office. To make matters worse, for decades, the only treatment option available has been a set of chunky, unsightly metal braces that are hard to clean and extremely uncomfortable.

Co-founders Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman were thinking about all of these things when they set out to disrupt an industry seen by many as untouchable with SmileDirectClub – one of the first-ever teledentistry startups. They remembered meeting as thirteen years olds at summer camp in northern Michigan, where they both had uncomfortable mouths full of metal appliances, and thought long and hard about how to create a better experience. When they researched the relevant  data and realized how many wouldn’t just benefit from better, but needed any access to orthodontic care, they realized that they had an extraordinary opportunity to transform smiles for hundreds of millions of people.

SmileDirectClub’s business model enables treating dentists and orthodontists to deliver the doctor prescribed clear aligners straight to patients’ doors. There are no trips to the dentist’s office, no waiting rooms, and no wires and brackets holding together a bunch of ugly, uncomfortable metal – just a series of doctor prescribed custom clear aligners that straighten most patients’ teeth within six months. Through this innovative model, the company has been able to cut out singificant amounts of overhead and is able to pass along the savings to customers, helping many achieve a savings of as much as 60% when compared to traditional orthodontic treatment.

When Fenkell and Katzman launched the company, known as SmileCareClub back in 2014, they still weren’t certain exactly how many people would be excited about their service – or if they even were going to have a business years down the line. It would only take a few minutes for their hunches to be proven right, though; on the day they launched, initial interest from customers crashed their servers. 

Essentially a two-person operation, the duo handled everything themselves in these early days. Based in a tiny space in Detroit, Fenkell and Katzman fielded calls from prospective customers and current patients, took hundreds of orders to their local FedEx facility for delivery each day, and put in many, many hours convincing dentists and orthodontists to join their startup and begin offering teledentistry services as a way to reach new patients and connect with those who otherwise would never be able to receive their services. 

Through this groundbreaking model, in five years, SmileDirectClub has empowered over 750,000people to finally get the smiles they’ve always wanted and transform their lives for the better. The company has grown from their two-man operation to a corporate headquarters in Nashville, which serves as the heart of operations for over 300 SmileShop locations and over6,000 employees. With a presence across the United States, in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland, they now have a commanding lead over their competitors, representing over 95% of the clear aligner industry. A recent partnership with HP has also helped the company launch the largest 3D printing facility in the United States, where 49 Jet Fusion 3D printing systems can now produce as many as 20 million mouth molds by the end of the year. 

This all means that customers now have two great ways to get the power of an incredible new smile. They can either request a doctor prescribed  impression kit, which is shipped overnight, make their molds in 30 minutes at home, and drop them in the mail, or they can get digital impressions , a process that again takes no longer than 30 minutes. Regardless of which method they choose, from there, a dentist or orthodontists licensed in the state where the customer resides will review that 3D image, along with the other information collected from the customer, and if that treating dentist or orthodontist determines that the customer is a viable candidate for clear aligner therapy using a remote, doctor-directed teledentistry platform, they will  create a custom treatment plan, shipping convenient, discreet clear aligners directly to patients, monitoring their patients care and progress through remote check-ins during treatment. 

However, more than anything, Fenkell is quick to stress that SmileDirectClub isn’t about technology or disruption. It’s about empowering people, giving them more confidence in their look, and making them feel like they have something more to share with the world. 

For a clear example of this, look to one of the company’s earliest customers, Golden State Warrior Draymond Green. After doing a poor job of wearing his retainer in high school and even breaking it when he was in college, Green reached out to SmileDirectClub to get his smile back into shape before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals during a remarkable moment in basketball history. He was so happy with his treatment that he became an investor in the company, celebrating with Fenkell, Katzman and countless satisfied SmileDirectClub patients on September 12 – dubbed #SmilePowered Day – in Times Square earlier this year.  He called investing in the company “a no-brainer,” and a piece of the portfolio he’s building in order to succeed both on and off the court. 

In the years to come, expect to see Fenkell and Katzman continue to push, innovate, and develop their groundbreaking platform, providing even better services at more competitive prices. As their company challenges the orthodontic establishment, it’s clear that it will be all but impossible to put the lightning they’ve stumbled upon back in the bottle, and others will likely follow their example as they find new paths to blaze inspired by their work. 

To find out more about SmileDirectClub, co-founder Alex Fenkell, or see if orthodontic treatment delivered directly to you is right for you or someone you love, click here.