By Kendall Fisher, executive producer
SmileDirectClub calls itself the first-ever direct-to-consumer teledentistry platform, helping people straighten their teeth through clear aligner therapy that the platform’s own doctors manage remotely from start to finish.
As the United States continues social distancing amid COVID-19, SmileDirectClub has extended its services, sharing the platform with all licensed dentists and orthodontists nationwide and enabling them to continue seeing patients virtually.
“Dental offices have been shut down,” says Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer. “So what we want to do is make sure we can help.”
Dentists and orthodontists can use SmileDirectClub’s telehealth app and its interactive video and chat capabilities to communicate with patients, allowing them to conduct virtual checkups and follow-up care for recent or emergency procedures, thus decreasing the risk of infection or disease.
Furthermore, SmileDirectClub is using its 3D printing capabilities to create and distribute complimentary medical-grade face shields--up to 10,000 per day--to doctors and nurses on the front lines and those in oral care who have to perform emergency procedures during this time. The company is also working on a reusable respirator mask.
“We’re here to help the community,” Sulitzer says. “We’re poised and ready to do whatever it takes, and if we have to make additional changes to our platform, we’re ready to do that. We’ve done it before, and we’re ready to do it moving forward.”
Watch our conversation with SmileDirectClub’s Sulitzer in the video above.
Here’s the full transcript of our conversation:
Kendall Fisher: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. We have Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer on with us from Smile Direct Club. Hi, Dr S. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Sure. Hi, how are you today?
Kendall Fisher: Hanging in there. How are you doing?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: We're doing great, thank you. All excited to answer some of your questions and share our story a little bit here.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah, we are excited to have you on. You're the Chief Clinical Officer with Smile Direct Club and I know there's a lot that you guys are up to right now, so I want to just start off by giving our audience some insight into Smile Direct Club. Can you dive into the company and tell us about the telehealth platform that you've built?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Yeah, sure. Smile Direct Club is a direct to consumer tele-dentistry platform that's designed to help customers address mild to moderate spacing and crowding of their teeth through remote clear aligner therapy. Our network of 250 state licensed dentists and orthodontists prescribed the care, they manage the care and they direct the care from the very beginning of treatment to the very end. So, it's always doctor directed and doctor managed.
And Smile Direct Club's mission is to democratize access to a smile that everyone would love to have. And our value proposition is basically threefold. It's providing access to care, particularly in situations where you might not have an orthodontist or a dentist who does invisible aligners in your community. So you get the access that you need. You have the convenience, so you can do it at home, you can do it at your time when you want to do it and the doctor is able to do it at his or her convenience as well. And most importantly, we can do it at a cost savings of at least 60% than the traditional setting. So it's wonderful to unleash that power, that person's smile to positively impact their place in the world. So it's a great value proposition for anyone.
Kendall Fisher: And a milestone in the industry, right? I mean, can you just hit on that a little bit? Why was this so big for the oral care industry?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, of course, we're an oral care company first. And then of course we created the first, the direct to consumer a med tech platform. So it now has opened up tremendous opportunities for dentists and orthodontists to reach patients they weren't able to reach before. So it's just a wonderful, has had great impact on the industry. We're disruptors and we love disrupting the traditional setting and it's just great for everybody because again, we're oral care company and it improves access to oral health.
SmileDirectClub continues to send its teeth-aligning kits to customers as dentists' offices close.
Kendall Fisher: Right. Well, and right now you're doing even more, you're solving a huge problem right now in the dentistry and orthodontic areas with closures amid COVID-19. First, I want to start off by asking how you guys at Smile Direct Club continue to serve your customers at this time. And then we're going to dive into little bit about how you're helping kind of the dental and orthodontist community as well.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Yeah, no, that's great. And first I just want to explain sort of the process on how our customers start their journey and we call it a smile journey, the way they begin the process. And there are basically two ways to start the journey. First is to visit a smile shop where we capture a 3-D image. Or the second way is that you can order an impression kit, which is sent to your home. So the first way for now is not really an option because we've closed our Smile Shops and we've suspended operations of our Smile Buses, which would go out to the communities and meet people and be able to reach where we don't have smile shops available, but we've closed them amidst this pandemic for a host of reasons.
So right now the focus focal point for us is to use our smile, our impression kits that can be sent out to your home and all you have to do is go to SmileDirectClub.com to order an impression kit. So it's a great way to get started, particularly in an environment where you really can't do anything else at home. So their doctor prescribed, the kits and they're easy to use.
Kendall Fisher: Oh yeah, because I was going to ask, can you kind of explain how these, some people maybe have never done an impression before. I did one recently for teeth whitening stuff, but can you explain how the impression kits work and how we're able to actually do this all on our own by ourselves?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Oh yeah, sure. First of all, I want to make it clear that we have ongoing customer support that's available when you're doing these services at home. So you have some support through our customer care and our dental team as well as of course the state licensed doctors in your state that you are located, who will prescribe the care and can direct the care.
So the impression kits, you know what we do is we send an impression kit. As I said, you can order it from our website and also we're offering a discount today for our impression kits, they're $29. But how do you use it? It's a great question. There are large amounts of directions in the actual kits themselves. And then we also have online videos. There are Facebook Live videos that actually I've done and some other people have conducted that are easy and kind of an easy way to explain how to do the impressions. They're actually easier than you think. And we could also send you out an additional kit should we need additional impressions if in case maybe one area we missed. So we also have software that makes it more efficient if you will, where if one side of the impression is not so good, we can merge it with the one side that is good. So it kind of works out really well. So it's actually easier than you think. The materials are easy to work with. So yeah, it's a great opportunity.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah, definitely. And especially at that cost. I know my impression kit was about five times that price so.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Understood, understood.
Kendall Fisher: They can get pricey and at this time where things are a little uncertain that's really great. Are you continuing-
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Just real quick. I just want to make sure that everybody understands too that our manufacturing and distribution facilities are cleaned and sanitized daily and they wear PPE for the team so that they can be comfortable knowing the materials they receive are safe to use.
In order to make teeth aligners, the company sends impression kits to customers that they can use at home.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah, and that's what I kind of was going to get into that, which is are you continuing to see regular business at this time? If not, have you seen an uptick with people being home and able to kind of do this right from their own home? I know for example, like I was saying teeth whitening for me was something that I was like, "Well I'm home. I might as well do this now." And face masks and those type of beauty routines. Are you seeing people order some of these impression kits and starting to do this from home right now?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: We are actually. It was a big part of our business, but now it's a significantly bigger part of our business and it's really picking up in new orders since our shops have closed. So what it does is it provides people with the ability to start while they're at home. So it's a great benefit at this time because now's the time to work on working out, do all the things that we want to do to make ourselves better. So this is like one of the first steps.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah, it's finding that silver lining, right? We all, we all have to do it. We have to find some positivity in this where we can. So how, how are you guys keeping up with that demand then? Is there anything that you've had to do differently? And like you said, I mean, like you said, you're making sure you guys are taking care of all the sanitation processes correctly. What about in terms of shipping, anything that you guys have to do different or is it business as usual?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: It's pretty much business as usual. We are prepared. We have been prepared to ramp up because our business have been growing in leaps and bounds. So, and by the way, we're often having to change the way we do things because we're always growing. So, this has as bad as a process this has been, dealing with a pandemic and how scary it is. The good news is, as a company, we've been able to leverage the tools that make us to make us more effective. So it's really worked out well.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah. So I mean, this is, as you guys have been growing consistently over time, you've kind of had to continue to shift and this is just almost one of those inflection points in which you've done so. Now this isn't just serving your customers at this point. You recently announced you'll make the tele-dentistry platform available to all licensed dentists and orthodontists. How did you come up with this idea and how were you able to execute upon it?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, it's not that hard to think that, that's a next step to help the dental community. We want to partner with the dentists and orthodontists in the United States. We have 250 affiliated doctors. We'd love to grow that. But even besides that, we know that because of this pandemic that dental offices have been shut down. So what we want to do is make sure that we can help. So three weeks ago we felt we needed to do something to help in this fight.
So we've actually, because we developed this platform, this original telehealth platform for tele- dentistry, we're opening it up to dentists that are not affiliated with us. So any dentist, orthodontist in the US that wants to maintain their practices in order to conduct follow up care for emergency procedures and such can utilize this platform. And what's really great about the platform is that it has an app and a web app so that you can have interactive video as well as chat capability. So it's a great way to communicate with patients. And again, in today's world, most dental practices in the U S are shut down for everything but emergency care. So that's 70% of the dental practices are closed based on that and another 19% are closed completely. So this is a great way for us to treat our patients and maintain that social distancing mandates that we're supposed to maintain. We can triage, we can do all sorts of services through the tele-dentistry platform and it'll be available to any dentist, orthodontist that would like to use it.
Kendall Fisher: I mean, what kind of preparation and resources and work goes into this? How did you make sure the platform could handle all of the licensed dentists and orthodontists that choose to use this platform?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, we're tech experts. That's really what our company is. So we're surrounded by tech people and as I said, tech experts. So it's not that much of a leap for us to be able to grow and expand quickly. And that's how we did it with this particular application as well. We were prepared for expansion as it was. So it was fairly easy to make sure that it can handle additional doctors who want to join or not join, but able to use the application. So it's kind of exciting for us.
And not only that, but we're also supplying any dentist, orthodontist who would like to continue to communicate with their patients for emergencies that we're giving them complimentary to face shields so that they're able to have because a lot of their PPE has been donated to local hospitals and such as mandated by the Vice President and some of the local communities. So, we're trying to help some of those local dentists and orthodontists. So anybody who's interested, they can contact us and we'll be able to print up two free complimentary face shields.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah. You're utilizing your 3-D printing capabilities to do that, right?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: We are. Exactly. So, we've had capability of expansion because we've built for expansion and for growth. But based on this pandemic and how we're reacting to it, we opened up more capability to do more printing.We're one of the largest 3-D printing facilities in the US so we are able now to produce up to 10,000 shields a day. And we've been working on developing a reusable respirator mask. So we're working with a bunch of organizations to make sure that the mask that comes out will be able to be safe and effective. And also starting April 1st we just started shipping out over 25,000 face shields to-
Kendall Fisher: Wow.
SmileDirectClub is using its 3D printers, normally used for teeth aligners, to make protective face shields.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Yeah, it's really neat to organizations such as the University Of California at San Francisco, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. We also sent out face shields to St. Luke's Hospital in Boise, Idaho. So a lot of different types of organizations and some second tier health care organizations, that are not necessarily hospitals but retirement homes and things like that. So we're trying to be all things to all people as much as we can.
So, not only were we able to be able to support the effort against the COVID outbreak, but we're also able to do this while we're employing our workforce, our manufacturing workforce. So we're able to by US employees make US products to support US healthcare providers. So it's kind of a cool story.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah, definitely.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: And also we've donated our PPE, which were gloves and masks in the shops. Some of our shops are located in CVS stores and Walgreens stores and we've donated all of those PPEs to make sure that the workers in those shops are safe, the CVS employees and Walgreens employees are safe. So it's been kind of an effort all around that everyone's doing to support the win against the COVID outbreak.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah, I mean truly, I again, I say this just thank you. I don't even know how to say more than thank you. It's so incredible to hear these kinds of stories and hear how companies like Smile Direct Club are pivoting on a dime and being able to help these people and these companies that need it the most. I have a couple things that I want to unpack in what you just said. So the first being, going back to the 3-D printing capabilities, you guys are normally printing clear aligners. So how do you shift into printing some of these much needed medical supplies? And with that, how do you get the supplies you need, the pieces and the parts? A lot of companies are seeing setbacks when with some of the supplies they need to try to make face masks or you name it. How are you guys handling that and have you experienced any setbacks?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well look, it's kind of in our DNA to do this kind of thing. Like I said, we're disruptors, we're used to shifting on a dime. So we're a telehealth company first of all. So we're a health company and we're also FDA verified because we do class two medical devices as a medical device manufacturer. So it's kind of natural for us to be able to make a shift like this.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: So, and also we are still producing aligners and retainers for our customers when we need to. So that's happening as well. So we're doing this in addition. So it's really been quite an effort. And like I said, it's been great because we're using our team that we've used and we're just really excited about being able to contribute to the effort and also employ people as well at the same time. So it's exciting.
Kendall Fisher: Right. So some of the materials that you would utilize to make retainers and these aligners that can be utilized to make some of these other much needed medical supplies as well?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Yeah, well some of the materials are similar. And then also we've been able to get the materials that we need. We've done the research on how to assemble these, how to design them. So, we have a great R&D team and that R&D team is just wonderful. Like I said, we're so creative doing something like this was fairly easy for us, but we love the fact that we're able to participate.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah. How are you keeping those employees safe that are helping do all of this?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, we follow all the protocols and we comply with CDC guidance and standards as well as local markets safety guidelines. And of course our US-based manufacturing facilities is FDA and OSHA certified. So it is safe. We do practice social distancing, not just on the production floor but also in the break rooms and everywhere people are educated on how to manage the situation. And everybody's been really working well. We've heightened our sanitation and our team members safety protocols or of course using those gloves and masks and disinfecting products that are EPA registered.
Kendall Fisher: Great.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: So it's really been great. And by the way, we also have a lot of automation. So some of these environments, they're automated lines, which is great. So there's kind of less operator touch points, kind of safer for everybody as well.
Kendall Fisher: Well, and that's what I wanted to ask. What role does visibility and agility, some of these automation processes that you have in place, what role does all of that play in making this kind of shift and doing it as quickly as you have? I mean on the operations side, how did you get the visibility and agility you needed to do this?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, like I said, it's kind of in our DNA. We're kind of like, "What if?" We asked that question all the time and when somebody says, "Well, you can't do it." We love to hear that because we'll figure out a way to do it. That's kind of what we do. Like I said, we spent a lot of time in research and development. We do a lot of time in testing. So for us to shift like this, it was fairly easy. So, it kind of worked out.
Kendall Fisher: And what role did NetSuite play? I mean, how has NetSuite given you the confidence to make these kinds of businesses decisions and to shift the way that you have? I know you talked a little bit about automation, I'm curious to know if there's any other role that NetSuite has played in this.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, look, as I said, agility and adaptability are some of Smile Direct Club's best traits. So NetSuite's flexible system allows us to quickly shift as needed. So really it helped us give us, we use NetSuite's tools to be able to be flexible. So that's how we are able to shift on a dime and make these changes that are necessary.
As a tech-based company, SmileDirectClub was able to adjust to COVID-19 quickly, says Sulitzer.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah. To wrap up here, just a couple of final questions. Did Smile Direct Club have a business continuity plan or any type of crisis management plan in place? A lot of companies do, but a lot of them have nothing to do with the pandemic that we're experiencing right now. And I'm just curious from your guy's perspective, if that was something that you've kind of experienced too.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, yes we do have crisis management plans in place and business continuity plans and in fact we had to initiate it a couple of weeks prior to the pandemic when tornadoes hit downtown Nashville.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: So we've prepared for this and then we actually had, sad to say, we had a reason to use it even before the pandemic. So really all of our systems were geared up and ready to go. So for us it was really second nature to manage it. As much as we do not want to manage crises, we're pretty good at it based on the fact that we had the plan in place and we actually even had to use it prior to the pandemic response.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah. And moving forward, do you have, first of all I want to ask, what are your plans to assist the dental community after this subsides? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, sure. We want to partner with the dental community. As I said, we want to provide some PPE to dentists and orthodontists who might have problems finding them for sure. Face shields and hopefully a really well designed reusable mask. But also we are planning to make referrals for cases and other dental work because our platform and our model is basically a gateway to oral health. So, we find that 40%, more than 40%, of our patients will report that when they use our aligners during and after they go to their dental offices more routinely for checkups and for routine care and other services. So we plan to be very aggressive and vigilant in making these referrals to our local dental partners who are not currently affiliated with us. Just to sort of make sure their businesses are promoted and propped up and do the very best that we can to support them.
Kendall Fisher: Yeah. And what about for Smile Direct Club? How are you guys planning for the future and is there a change that you've made or something you've experienced during all of this that you plan to take with you into your strategy in the future?
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, look, again, I think what's happened with COVID and actually even the tornado before, it just shows you need to be agile. You need to be on your toes and be able to be an organization that is lean and able to make changes. And that's kind of who we are. So for us in the future, I don't think a lot of us are kind of wondering what's going to happen. We're concerned about the start up of the economy and things like that, but we're ready to go. Our tele-dentistry platform is suited perfectly for going forward in managing social distancing and safety. So, we believe that in our circumstances, we're here to help the community. We're poised and ready to do whatever it takes. And if we have to make additional changes to our platform, we're ready to do that. We've done that before and we're ready to do it going forward.
Kendall Fisher: Great. Well on that note Dr S, thank you so much for joining us. Again, just so excited and proud to hear of everything that Smile Direct Club is doing to help our community right now and keep doing what you're doing and keep smiling. And thank you so, so much for joining us.
Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer: Well, thank you for having me.