How one DSO pivoted after SmileDirectClub's closure

The recent closure of SmileDirectClub (SDC) left many patients feeling abandoned and overwhelmed with concerns about the future of their orthodontic care. In response to the sudden gap in the market left by SDC, Aspen Dental stepped in to offer a solution, providing doctor-directed care for patients in need through the Motto Smile Complete Club.

As part of a recent exclusive interview with Dr. Payam Ataii, senior vice president of orthodontic support at Aspen Dental, we dove into the details of how Aspen Dental quickly adapted to help patients and the positive impact the dental service organization (DSO) is making in the field of clear aligner therapy.

A swift response to the SDC shutdown

As Dr. Ataii explained, the key to Aspen Dental's success in filling the void left by SDC was in its ability to offer doctor-directed care for patients. While SDC aimed to make orthodontic care more accessible by allowing patients to manage treatment at home, the reality in the aftermath of SDC's sudden closure was a sense of abandonment. Aspen Dental, with its presence in more than 44 states and more than 1,000 offices, swiftly recognized the opportunity to provide an alternative solution.

Dr. Ataii emphasized that the transition was not only seamless, but it also took just a matter of days.

Dr. Payam AtaiiDr. Payam Ataii.

“This is what we do every day. It was just a matter of getting the pricing in place so patients could make it work and that it was not hitting them again in the pocketbook," he said.

Aspen Dental’s commitment to breaking down barriers and making care more accessible became the driving force behind its quick response to the emerging need, Dr. Ataii said.

Patient feedback and establishing trust

One of the significant concerns after SDC's closure was whether patients would trust a new program. However, Dr. Ataii shared with me that the feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive. He told me that patients appreciate having a clinician they can talk to and trust. The Aspen Dental model has proven to be reassuring for patients who were initially hesitant about seeking orthodontic care.

“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” Dr. Ataii said. “These patients say they finally have someone they can talk to and someone who’s truly in their corner. Finally, they can show the doctors their concerns and speak with them firsthand.”

By offering a combination of virtual care and in-person consultations, Aspen Dental has successfully addressed patients' fears and instilled confidence in the doctor-directed care they provide.

Educating dentists for a seamless transition

To ensure a smooth transition, Dr. Ataii and the Aspen Dental management team played a crucial role in educating Aspen Dental's doctors.

“Every doctor, when they heard what was going on with SmileDirectClub, the overall reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, we can now help these patients.’ Everybody was excited,” he explained.

The educational platform offered by Aspen Dental to its dentists and teams included access to one-on-one sessions, virtual learning, and a comprehensive understanding of the newly introduced Smile Complete Club program.

The response from both patients and doctors has been swift and positive. Dr. Ataii told me, “We were able to scale this literally within a week. I’m not exaggerating. Within a week, we were able to have all of our doctors in tune with the Smile Complete Club program.”

Positive impact on access to care

From a broader perspective, Aspen Dental's initiative to take over the orthodontic care for SDC patients has significantly improved access to care. Dr. Ataii emphasized that Aspen Dental's extensive network spans rural areas, where private practitioners may be scarce. Offering clear aligner therapy at a reasonable price, Dr. Ataii believes that Aspen Dental is making a significant impact on affordability and accessibility.

“We are definitely on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge,” Dr. Ataii told me, highlighting how Aspen Dental's comprehensive approach incorporates a digital workflow, helping ensure their practitioners are pushing the boundaries of what dental care can achieve.

The evolution of clear aligners and the role of artificial intelligence

Having been involved in the clear aligner space for more than 19 years, Dr. Ataii reflected on the evolution of the industry. From early skepticism among orthodontists to the present, where clear aligners are a standard part of orthodontic care, Ataii noted the tremendous progress within the vertical. Aspen Dental's active incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) technology for tooth movements and patient monitoring is evidence of the DSO's commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements.

“We are 100% working on that [AI]. Right now, we have incorporated AI technology within our aligner ecosystem, which includes aligner tracking and  tooth movements,” Dr. Ataii told me.

The use of AI is expected to further enhance patient results, reduce treatment times, and streamline the aligner therapy process.

Looking forward

Dr. Ataii believes that Aspen Dental's rapid response to the closure of SDC reflects its commitment to breaking down barriers and providing accessible, affordable, and trusted orthodontic dental care. The positive feedback from both patients and doctors showcases the early success of their model in restoring patient trust and ensuring a seamless transition for those left in uncertainty after SDC's shutdown.

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