by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Let’s say you want your kid to have braces, but you’re struggling with the prospect of being charged $5,000 to $8,000 for the service, most of which you’re likely to pay out of pocket. Thanks to innovators, you don’t have to break the bank to have straight teeth. Alternatives to braces exist. And that poses an economic threat to traditional dentistry. Yes, you guessed it. Orthodontists are trying to keep the competition out.
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) filed complaints with state dental boards in 36 states last April, in which they claim SmileDirectClub “creates medical risks.” The American Dental Association (ADA) “strongly discourages” their use. In November, SmileDirectClub sued the Michigan division of the ADA for making “false and defamatory statements” about the company. The suit is still ongoing.
What a shame. Look how you would benefit:
SmileDirectClub’s aligners—clear plastic coverings 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.
North Carolina is no stranger to this type of ‘circle the wagons’ behavior from industries that want to block competition. Remember North Carolina’s teeth whitening case? Thankfully, common sense prevailed in court.
In 2003, a North Carolina Dental Board began firing off cease-and-desist letters to any non-dentist offering whitening services, causing a mass exodus of manufacturers and distributors who offered over-the-counter teeth-whitening products. The Federal Trade Commission sued the state dental board and claimed the board was engaging in anti-competitive practices by forcing out their competition, and the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the FTC.
Whether it’s braces or teeth whitening, the core takeaway is that consumers loses when competition is thwarted. One way this anti-compeititive behavior thrives is through occupational licensing — requiring people to pass tests, pay fees, attend school, and jump through all sorts of hoops before they can earn a living. Some regulation and licensing makes sense, of course. But in many cases, there are other alternatives that can ensure quality and safety. Putting up massive roadblocks should be the last alternative, not the first.