CVS Health is venturing into dental care. The drugstore chain plans to offer a teeth-straightening service—for far less cost than traditional orthodontic braces.
The company says that it’s adding SmileDirectClub locations to hundreds of stores. Customers can begin straightening their teeth without visiting a dentist or orthodontist first. The program could save thousands of dollars per grin. But the lack of an office visit has drawn frowns from orthodontists.
CVS Health and other drugstores in recent years have been adding more services to their store locations. In part, those businesses want to help customers stay healthy. But to succeed, they’re naturally trying to sell profitable products. They also want to compete with online retailers like Amazon.com. It provides same-day or two-day delivery for many of the products that drugstores offer.
Under the CVS plan, customers meet a SmileDirect employee at a drugstore location. A 3-D image of the patient’s mouth is made on site. CVS sends the image to a dentist or orthodontist who approves the patient’s treatment plan. Patients are shipped clear, removable aligners designed to straighten their teeth. They check in remotely with a dentist or orthodontist by smartphone. The service costs $1,850 before insurance—compared to $4,000 or considerably more for braces from an orthodontist.
The program has the attention of the American Association of Orthodontists. The group warns that in-person visits are important in this type of care. Dentists can spot gum disease during a visit and X-rays can detect bone loss not seen in a photo, the group’s lawyer Sean Murphy claims.
“Our concern is patient health and safety,” Murphy says.
CVS Pharmacy President Kevin Hourican responds that he has no concerns about safety with SmileDirect. He states that the straightening service provides a “high quality” product and limits care to patients who don’t have complex dental needs. Besides, the in-store straightening option never claims to replace regular dental checkups for cleanings and screenings.
SmileDirect Club began in 2014. It has served more than half a million people. Spokesperson Carrie Moore says the orthodontist reaction isn’t surprising. She called it common for “traditional industry representatives to balk” when a new business model gains acceptance or promises competition.
The SmileDirect locations will appear in only a few of CVS Health’s 9,800 retail locations nationally. But company officials say they may eventually expand to more than a thousand locations. The company tested the approach in a few stores last fall. Results showed that younger, new customers were most attracted to the mail-order smiles.