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NASHVILLE, Tenn., U.S.: Orthodontics disruptor SmileDirectClub (SDC) reported small declines in revenue and clear aligner case numbers for the fourth quarter of last year. The company’s chairman and CEO, David Katzman, outlined SDC’s continued global expansion, however, and said that consumers and dentists had shown increased acceptance of its direct-to-consumer tooth straightening business model during the pandemic.
For the fourth quarter, SDC’s total revenue of $184.6 million (€155.4 million) was down 6.0% and clear aligner shipments of 101,794 were down 11.5%, compared with the fourth quarter of 2019. Both figures represented a sequential improvement on SDC’s results in the third quarter of 2020, and Katzman said that the results were better than the company had expected. He commented in a conference call with analysts that the pandemic had resulted in an uncertain operating environment for the company, but that its performance was a validation of the strength of SDC’s business model.
The company’s results stand in contrast to those of leading clear aligner manufacturer Align Technology, which sold a record number of clear aligners in 2020 despite widespread closures of dental offices around the world.
SDC sells clear aligner treatment directly to consumers through a “doctor-directed” treatment model that utilizes an online platform, retail locations and dental clinics. Founded in 2014 as a teleorthodontics provider, SDC tweaked its operations last year when it began marketing its own range of oral care products and selling its 3D-printed clear aligners directly to dental professionals. In early 2020, the company’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, said in an interview that “orthodontists and dentists do what is in the best interests of their practices […] When there is a good business opportunity, they will take advantage of it, and this will be a great business opportunity.” One year later, however, the company is placing renewed emphasis on its origins as a teleorthodontics provider.
According to Katzman, consumers who purchase their clear aligner treatment directly from the company stand to reap the greatest financial benefit. “Orthodontists have traditionally purchased invisible aligners from a wholesaler or manufacturer, marked up the cost by three times and then sold them to the consumer for $5,000 to $8,000,” he explained during the call. “Our proprietary technology and platform offer consumers the ability to get the same clinically safe and effective treatment but without the three times [mark-up]. We do it by providing a doctor-directed digital end-to-end experience in teledentistry [and] 24/7 access to dental care.”
“[We] continue to see growth in the adoption and use of teledentistry by the dental and orthodontic industries”
– David Katzman, CEO, SmileDirectClub
Katzman said that, during the quarter, the company had experienced favorable industry dynamics and a broader acceptance of teledentistry—not only by consumers, but also by insurance providers and dental boards and associations. Looking back on 2020, Katzman said that the agility of SDC’s business model had been put to the test. “It forced us to stay nimble, innovate against the customer experience, and we achieved that while making great strides toward our long-term growth and margin targets. We have always, first and foremost, been a telehealth business, and we are excited to see the growing level of understanding, acceptance, and use of telehealth, especially for orthodontics.”
Last year, dentists and dental groups also showed a greater acceptance of teleorthodontics, according to Katzman. “[We] continue to see growth in the adoption and use of teledentistry by the dental and orthodontic industries,” he explained. “This is underscored even further by the expansion of our professional partnership with well-established and respected national DSOs [dental support organizations], which is a further testament to the adoption of telehealth by the dental community.” He said that SDC clear aligners were being offered in around 1,000 dental offices by the end of 2020—a figure that included DSO locations—and that the company is aiming to increase that number to 10,000 by the end of 2021. Most recently, SDC signed an agreement with the New York City-based DSO National Dental.
Last year, SDC launched its clear aligner service in Germany, Singapore, Austria and Spain, meaning that, by the end of 2020, it was offering treatment for malocclusion to consumers in 11 countries. This year, the company launched its service in the Netherlands, and it expects launches to take place in four to six additional countries within the geographical areas of Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific before the end of 2021. Just two years ago—in the first quarter of 2019—SDC aligners were only available in the U.S.
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