Bad Teeth Bite: How SmileDirectClub Put Their Money Where My Mouth Is

32 unruly teeth, 2 night-time aligners, and 1 happy smile


September 27, 2019

A Dental Dilemma

I’m a simple guy with simple tastes — chewy candy, caramel apples, a cold 72-oz. Big Gulp of Vanilla Coke. 

Unfortunately, these tastes are directly at odds with my dental health.

If I’m honest with myself, my top row of teeth isn’t too brutal. It’s the bottom row that I’m generally tight-lipped about.

How would I describe my bottom teeth? 

If they were any sort of actual group, they’d be an unruly kindergarten classroom that got into the secret reserve of juice boxes and developed a sudden taste for anarchy — flying every which way with reckless abandon, careening into and off of each other with the kind of mutinous energy that can only come from 68 grams of sugar per serving. Any rule they once followed has been flung out the window, along with their teacher and all the healthy snacks Mom packed. 

Point being, they could use some sorting out. 

So when SmileDirectClub offered me the chance to get these wonky chompers of mine on the straight ‘n narrow, I bit. 

Hard. 

Getting Things In Line

Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not particularly ashamed of my teeth, but as I headed to the SmileDirectClub website to schedule my appointment, I began picturing the elegant new life a fresh smile might give me.

Parties in Ibiza! Private rooms at every David Chang restaurant! New LinkedIn headshots! 

With a few clicks, I set up a visit to one of their offices, called “SmileShops,” and prepared to start this new chapter of my life. 

“Where We’re Going, You Won’t Need Braces”

On the morning of my appointment, as I approached the SmileShop I half-expected to be greeted by a 7-foot toothbrush, singing employees dressed as retainers, and mint dental floss flavored sugar-free ice cream. 

Instead, what I got was a sleek storefront and some well-dressed customer reps who welcomed me in — no white surgical coats in sight. 

What the SmileShop lacks in singing mascots, they make up for with, well… everything else.

Forget the dentist offices that plague the nightmares of your youth — you won’t find plastic-covered chair cushions or outdated stacks of “Walker’s World Weekly” at a SmileShop. 

Instead, you’ll get waiting rooms reminiscent of boutique stores, replete with tasteful branding and walls covered with more purple than a Prince concert (turns out, that’s kinda their thing).

If not for the smile and teeth puns plastered to various marketing materials, I felt as though I could just as easily be buying a designer handbag as getting my aligners. 

Yes Way, Jose 

We all know how a visit to the dentist office goes. You walk in feeling late, furiously fill out forms attached to a clipboard (a clipboard!), and twiddle your thumbs for half an hour before someone flatly calls your name from the other side of the waiting room door. I can’t help but think that for service so invasive, dental care can be really impersonal. 

As I read over the walls, wishing I was half as clever as their marketing team, a bubbly associate named Jose called my name and from the moment we met, he made me feel like there was no question too dumb, no concern too silly. He listened better than my own mom does. Talk about service.

As Jose talked me through every step of the process to make sure I understood it and was comfortable, I began to consider following him on Instagram, just to see if he likes the same things I do, like Corgi meetups and Frida Kahlo-themed bar crawls. Then he surprised me (again) and asked me the questions no other dental health professional has dared ask. 

Bobby, are you self-conscious about your teeth? 

Are you compelled to tight-lip smile in family photos? 

Do you feel the pressure that comes with being a copywriter for a popular daily tech and business email newsletter? (Okay, he didn’t ask this, but I felt like it’s what he was thinking.) 

No, no, and no. I told him the honest truth — that while I don’t necessarily hate the way my teeth look, I’ve always thought it would be nice to know that when people are staring, it’s because I have something stuck in my incisors, not because they’re wondering whether these can opener-looking teeth of mine can crack into a Campbell’s Beef Stew. 

Jose smiled, nodded his head, and got to work. 

One (Prolonged) Wave Of The Wand

Out came the Magic Wand. 

At the SmileShop, the Magic Wand takes thousands of 3D pictures of your mouth to create a full image of your teeth and mouth which appears on a screen in front of you.

It’s jaw-dropping. (I had to.) 

They use this model to show you all your imperfections and how your smile will change over time. Even if there is something deeply jarring about seeing your disembodied smile on a computer screen, there is a purpose.

Jose assessed my scan, pointed out my issues, and cleaned up the digital version to ensure my aligners would be the perfect fit. In case I had any doubts about his handiwork (I didn’t), he called in another analyst to give it a second look and check for errors. 

Surprise, surprise! There weren’t any, because Jose was excellent at his job and also my best friend now. 

T-Minus 10 Months to Ramen with RuPaul

As the name suggests, SmileDirectClub’s new one-of-a-kind Nighttime Clear Aligners only need to be worn overnight (the only product on the market that’s PM-only). That means I can continue to spend my days partaking in all of my chewy vices — salted caramel everything and endless packs of Hubba Bubba — just as long as I pop my aligners in at night. 

And because they’re totally clear, even if my middle-school crush decides to Facetime me one night out of the blue, I doubt she’ll even notice them (fingers crossed!!)

Of course, 10 months of overnight wear can seem like a long wait for a new grin and  SmileDirectClub knows that, so a few days after my scan, they sent me an animated video of how my smile will progress. 

Seeing my future face and thinking of all the VIP access awaiting me — Momofuku with RuPaul, NBA Finals with Drake, saving the planet with Al Gore — was well worth the discomfort of looking my floating gums in the… uh, gums.

The SmileShop also sent me home with a complimentary whitening kit to give me something to do while I wait a few weeks for my molds to arrive. 

And you know what? It’s the little things like that which ultimately make the SmileDirectClub experience what it is — perfectly personal in every way. 

If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Gums

After I left the SmileShop, I realized a few things.

For one, it’s amazing how technology and innovation have transformed traditionally painful industries into something so personal and practical. At this stage in the game, I would’ve never considered braces; I’d long ago resigned myself to looking more like this and less like this

For another, I’m pretty sure that Jose from SmileDirectClub is now my closest friend. Of course, that tends to happen when you let someone take thousands of pictures of your mouth for half an hour, but I still plan on inviting him to my wedding after I inevitably use these new pearly whites to find a wife.

In Summary: Suck It, Dad

My parents always said I would regret not getting braces. “Deal with it now and you’ll thank us later.” Of course, I don’t think they were keen on the idea of ponying up a few grand to wire my teeth up. 

And yet here we are. 

I’ve been whitening my teeth every night, forwarding my favorite memes to Jose, and — in a few short weeks — will have a 10-month supply of nighttime aligners to turn my smile from “Sorry sir, we require reservations” to “Right this way, here’s the VIP booth.” 

That, my friends, is reason to Smile. 

Want to get your own smile sorted? Take this 30-second SmileDirectClub assessment to see if you’d be a good fit.

Daily briefings, straight to your inbox

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less

Join over 1 million people who read The Hustle

Psst

How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

Join us, it's free.

Look, you came to this site because you saw something cool. But here’s the deal. This site is actually a daily email that covers the important news in business, tech, and culture.

So, if you like what you’re reading, give the email a try.