SmileDirectClub shuts down months after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

FILE - Dental assistants go over appointments at SmileDirectClub's SmileShop located inside a CVS store April 24, 2019, in Downey, Calif. SmileDirectClub is shutting down, just months after the struggling teeth-straightening company filed for bankruptcy, leaving existing customers in limbo. On Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, the company said it was unable to find a partner willing to bring in enough capital to keep the company afloat, despite a months-long search. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – SmileDirectClub is shutting down — just months after the struggling teeth-straightening company filed for bankruptcy protection.

In a Friday announcement, SmileDirectClub said it had made an “incredibly difficult decision to wind down its global operations, effective immediately.”

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That leaves existing customers in limbo. SmileDirectClub's aligner treatment through its telehealth platform is no longer available, the Nashville, Tennessee, company said, while urging consumers to consult their local dentist for further treatment. Customer-care support has also ceased.

Customer orders that haven't shipped yet have been canceled and “Lifetime Smile Guarantee” no longer exists, the company said. SmileDirectClub apologized for the inconvenience and said additional information about refund requests will arrive “once the bankruptcy process determines next steps and additional measures customers can take.”

SmileDirectClub also said that Smile Pay customers are expected to continue to make payments, leading to further confusion and frustration online. A company spokesperson on Monday said the company couldn't comment further.

SmileDirectClub filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of September. At the time, the company reported nearly $900 million in debt. On Friday, the company said it was unable to find a partner willing to bring in enough capital to keep the company afloat, despite a monthslong search.

When SmileDirectClub went public in 2019, the company was valued at about $8.9 billion. But its stock plummeted in value over time, as the company proved to be unprofitable year after year and faced multiple legal battles. In 2022, SmileDirectClub reported a loss of $86.4 million.

SmileDirectClub, which has served over 2 million people since its 2014 founding, once promised to revolutionize the oral care industry by selling clear dental aligners (marketed as a faster and more affordable alternative to braces) directly to consumers by mail and in major retailers. But the company has also seen pushback from within and beyond the dental community.

Last year, District of Columbia attorney general’s office sued SmileDirectClub for “unfair and deceptive” practices — accusing the company of unlawfully using non-disclosure agreements to manipulate online reviews and keep customers from reporting negative experiences to regulators. SmileDirectClub denied the allegations, but reached a settlement agreement in June that required the company to release over 17,000 customers from the NDAs and pay $500,000 to the district.

The British Dental Association has also been critical about SmileDirectClub and similar remote orthodontics — pointing in a Sunday post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, to cases of advanced gum disease, risks of misdiagnosis and other issues.

“It shouldn’t have taken a bankruptcy to protect patients from harm," the British Dental Association wrote, while calling on U.K. regulators for increased protections. “Dentists are left to pick up the pieces when these providers offer wholly inappropriate treatment.”

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