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Does Direct-to-Consumer Accurately Describe Teleorthodontic Treatment with Clear Aligners?

·       “DTC” is being misapplied to companies that the establishment doesn’t like.
·       If a company provides a platform that is compliant with laws and regulations, then there should be no interference with it competing in the market.
·       The important discussion should focus on individual doctors’ adherence to the standard of care, which is overshadowed when “DTC” is misapplied.

It’s an important question, because it informs much of the advertising, not to mention the legal consequences, around the topic.  It’s a term that is fraught with peril if misused because it invites lawsuits for defamation or false and misleading statements. Lately, the term is being applied carelessly to any company that doesn’t fit a traditional brick and mortar treatment model, and particularly to those who are offering treatment at significantly lower prices than in traditional in-office treatment.

So, what is DTC? Technically, it’s when a company sells a product directly to a consumer. Is that happening in orthodontics? If it is, we’re unaware of it. In all the models with which we’re familiar, there’s a licensed dentist participating throughout the entire process. Although we can debate the standard of care and all other ancillary issues related to ensuring safe and effective treatment, that’s not the issue here.

Market participants aligned with the orthodontic “establishment” want to define DTC as any technology platform and/or manufacturer that deviates from traditional advertising and more importantly traditional pricing. The bottom line is this: if a company is compliant with relevant state statutes and regulations, there should be no barrier to entry into the market, nor should any professional association, or any formal or informal group of doctors, attempt to dissuade doctors or patients from contracting with those companies. Attempts to dissuade participation can be subtle and passive, but that doesn’t make them any less damaging. All such attempts are likely improperly anticompetitive, which of course can carry hefty legal consequences.

Precision in language is essential and DTC is inaccurate in the case of teleorthodontic treatment with clear aligners. Those orthodontists and dentists that reject this mode of treatment must be honest and ask themselves “why am I rejecting it?”  

If “advertising and pricing” is their answer to that question, perhaps we should instead talk about something called antitrust violations.

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