A Startup Designed a Cheap Alternative to Braces. Orthodontists (Naturally) Want It Regulated.


I have an economist friend who nags me (appropriately) for not sufficiently discussing supply-side solutions to the high cost of medical care in the United States. Here’s one step in righting the balance.

Kayla Stetzel, a Spring 2018 intern at Reason, writes in “Start-Ups Make Cheap Alternative to Braces, Dental Trade Groups Cry for Regulation,” May 3:

Braces are a burden. People have to miss work, arrange for child care, and travel to the orthodontist office over the span of a two to three years. Teens have to cut classes and ditch those after-school events to make room for appointments. Then there’s the price. Traditional Braces cost on average $5,000. Invisalign—a clear, plastic alternative to braces that is available only through licensed dental care providers—runs around $8,000.

SmileDirectClub’s aligners—clear plastic mouth guards designed to straighten teeth—cost $1,850. CandidCo., another dental startup, charges $1,900. The fitting and monitoring uses a telemedicine model. Customers who can’t or don’t want to get their teeth scanned in-store can have impression kits delivered straight to their door. “Aligners” based on those molds are then delivered to customers at home. It’s part of an emerging trend in dental care known as teledentistry, which uses alternative platforms like mobile apps, video chats, and dashboards to give people remote access to dental care.

The stark difference in cost and convenience matters. Many insurance companies do not cover orthodontic work, which is cosmetic for 98 percent of consumers. Private plans typically have a small cap for orthodontic coverage, leaving most people on their own to foot the bill. The AAO st