Canadian orthodontists take aim at DIY dentistry

The Canadian Association of Orthodontists has released a new campaign by Toronto agency Blackjet that looks to distinguish its members from direct-to-consumer competitors like SmileDirectClub by emphasizing the human relationships they have with their patients.

The original creative concept called for a series of live-action videos featuring cute kids interacting with helpful doctors, but the arrival of the COVID pandemic forced the agency to pivot to an animated approach.

“This sort of curveball isn’t uncommon,” says Blackjet CEO Rob Galletta. “Agencies around the world are being forced to rethink production without human interaction—but what if human interaction is the point of the production? That’s where creative problem solving comes into play.”

The resulting campaign, “Ask the Ortho-bot,” features a robotic orthodontist that is stymied by simple questions such as how customers can get in touch in case of an emergency, or being asked to explain how they give back to the community.

The first two videos, created by Blackjet’s new production studio Impossible Studios, are rolling out across the CAO’s social channels.

The campaign comes amid an ongoing battle between dentists/orthodontists and online upstarts like Smile Direct Club, which arrived in Canada in 2018  and claims that it can help customers straighten their teeth for up to 60% less than traditional options.

It is part of a growing wave of direct-to-consumer businesses that have disrupted everything from investing to insurance. Established in 2014, Smile Direct Club had revenues of US$327 million last year, and is forecasting revenue of $1 billion to $1.1 billion this year.

The Nashville-based company promises “revolutionary teeth alignment therapy” by inviting customers to have a digital photo of their teeth taken at one of its “SmileShops,” or requesting an impression kit from an affiliated dentist or orthodontist who will prescribe custom-made, invisible aligners shipped directly to the customer.

It arrived in Canada in the midst of a prolonged U.S. legal battle between traditional orthodontists and their DTC counterparts, with the former challenging the legality of the DTC approach.

In 2017, the American Dental Association issued a formal resolution stating that it “strongly discourages” the practice of what it called “do-it-yourself orthodontics” because of the potential harm to patients.

“Patients are being inundated with direct marketing campaigns encouraging them to initiate and manage their own orthodontic treatment. These campaigns are operating in multiple media outlets, including online, billboards and television ads,” said Dr. Craig Ratner, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice in the resolution.

The Canadian Dental Association issued its own public statement warning about DTC dental appliances, stating that “a dentist is in the best position to recommend dental treatment options that are right for you.” It warned that DTC can eliminate “critical interactions” with patients.

Smile Direct Club, meanwhile, has initiated legal action against dentists and orthodontists posting YouTube videos speaking out against its “aligners” product, including lawsuits launched against groups in New York and New Jersey as well as Michigan.

No word if they’re being represented by lawyer-bots.

Chris Powell