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Agreement frees thousands of clear aligner patients from non‑disclosure agreements

SmileDirectClub patients who signed non-disclosure agreements in order to a receive a refund were prevented from communicating negative opinions and filing new complaints. (Image: vi73/Shutterstock)

Fri. 30 June 2023


WASHINGTON, US: Patients who are unhappy with their orthodontic treatment must be allowed to speak out about it and file complaints if necessary. This was the take-home message from a recent settlement between at-home orthodontics company SmileDirectClub (SDC) and the office of the attorney general (OAG) for the District of Columbia, who spatted over the company’s refund policy for unhappy patients.

The OAG sued SDC in 2022 for allegedly preventing patients who were unhappy with its services or injured by its products from filing complaints and making negative statements. Local news outlet NBC4 Washington reported at the time that the orthodontics company required customers who sought refunds after 30 days to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to have their money returned—a practice that the OAG said violated consumer protection laws in the district. Karl Racine, then the attorney general, said at the time that signing the non-disclosure agreements prevented patients from making negative statements about their treatment and SDC and forced them to remove negative comments already made.

The settlement requires SDC to release around 17,000 former patients around the US from provisions of non-disclosure agreements, to change its refund policy for all US customers and to pay US$500,000 to the District of Columbia.

The parties failed to agree on any wrongdoing. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb commented in a press release that SDC “promised a simple, safe and affordable way to straighten teeth and touted five-star reviews—but behind the scenes, the company silenced dissatisfied consumers and buried complaints about injuries caused by its products”. Susan Greenspon Rammelt, chief legal officer at SDC, maintained that claims of the company seeking to quell unhappy consumers were baseless. Rammelt said in a statement: “For too long [has there] been a misinformation campaign claiming [SDC] stifles negative consumer feedback through the use of non-disclosure agreements. While we were disappointed this misinformation caused the District of Columbia to file its complaint, we are pleased to set the record straight and work with the District of Columbia’s office of the attorney general in its efforts to create new policy for the industry and increase customer transparency.”

Dr Myron Guymon, president of the American Association of Orthodontists, commended the OAG in an association press release for “recognising potentially deceptive and unfair business practices and for taking action to ensure that such practices do not harm unsuspecting orthodontic patients”.

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