Nov 18, 2022 - Economy

SmileDirectClub launches mouth-scanning iPhone app technology

A woman points a phone at her face to scan her teeth

SmileDirectClub released these side-by-side images to show how its new SmileMaker Platform scans the customer's teeth and produces an image of what their teeth will look like after they undergo straightening through plastic aligners. Photo courtesy of SmileDirectClub

SmileDirectClub is rolling out new technology that it says will allow you to use its app to 3D-scan your mouth and get a teeth-straightening plan using AI.

  • So I tried it today.

State of play: The SmileMaker Platform is available in beta form in Australia for now but is expected to hit the U.S. in late 2022 or early 2023,

  • Until now, SmileDirectClub customers who want to get their teeth straightened without visiting an office needed to order an impression kit.
  • They would then put a dollop of putty in their mouth, bite down, ship it back to SDC and get their teeth-alignment plan within a few weeks before deciding whether to buy the company's removable plastic aligners.

How it works: The new system is supposed to take 1 to 3 minutes for the scanning process followed by 15 minutes to get your plan, chief information officer Justin Skinner tells me.

  • As you point the forward-facing phone camera toward your teeth, the app gives you instructions on how wide to open your mouth and where to point your face — with the objective of scanning every corner of your teeth.
  • After completing the scan, SmileDirectClub says customers will receive a free "custom smile plan," showing a rendering of what their teeth will look like.
  • "We were able to do this by leveraging the full dataset of all the customers we’ve already done treatment plans for and we have assets for," Skinner says.

My experience: The scanning process worked like a charm. The app gave me easy instructions, and my scan was done in about two minutes.

  • Unfortunately when my treatment plan arrived about 15 minutes later, it was a black box instead of an image of my future teeth.
  • The company instructed me to close and restart the app, but that didn't do the trick.

The big picture: SmileDirectClub needs this to work. Though demand for its aligners soared in the early days of the pandemic, that wave has subsided.

  • The company's stock has plunged below $1, and there are concerns about its long-term outlook.

What's next: The company is hoping that customers will be more likely to purchase the treatment if they don't have to wait more than a few minutes to see what their mouth would look like.

  • "Long term goal we would love for you to be able to go online, scan yourself, buy and have your aligners in 48 hours," Skinner says. "That’s our dream."
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