Dental board faces lawsuit over direct-to-consumer orthodontics

SmileDirectClub LLC filed a lawsuit last week in federal court that alleges the Dental Board of California conspired to hurt the company’s business. The suit also names as plaintiffs Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, and his professional corporation. Dr. Sulitzer is a licensed dentist in California and the chief clinical officer of SmileDirectClub.

The lawsuit came several days after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1519, which extends the operation of the dental board and establishes fundamental consumer protections for patients who receive dental treatment via telehealth. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The plaintiffs claim that dentists serving on the dental board have undertaken “an aggressive, anti-competitive campaign” against SmileDirectClub, its affiliated dental practices and its direct-to-consumer business model. The lawsuit alleges that an investigator with the dental board conducted raids on SmileShop stores and a SmileBus, even though the practice of dentistry does not occur at those locations. It also accuses enforcement unit personnel of harassing employees and consumers on the SmileBus, owned by Sulitzer DMD Professional Corporation.

In the lawsuit, SmileDirectClub claims that it is a dental service organization that provides nonclinical, administrative services, including a teledentistry platform, to independent dental practices contracted with the company. These “affiliated” dental practices in turn contract with state-licensed dentists and orthodontists who treat patients.

The dental board does not comment on pending litigation.

CDA will continue to keep members informed about the litigation.

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Direct-to-consumer orthodontic patients will gain new protections when CDA-supported Assembly Bill 1519 becomes the law in January 2020. The first of its kind in the nation, the new law will protect patients from DTC orthodontic companies that are putting profits before patients by taking potentially unsafe shortcuts to the accepted standards of care.

The American Dental Association has asked the Federal Trade Commission to “investigate false and misleading claims made by SmileDirectClub, LLC to entice consumers to purchase products and services.” The ADA is concerned specifically with SmileDirectClub’s marketing and direct-to-consumer sales of plastic teeth aligners, which it says do not follow the adequate safeguards required by law.