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California AG hits teledentistry company SmileDirect executive with fraud charges over practice scheme

SmileDirect Club, which has built a thriving national teledentistry practice based on the premise that Americans should not need to visit an orthodontist's office to get their teeth straightened, has been the indirect subject of a two-year investigation by the California state dental board board over actions of SmileDirect's chief clinical officer, Jeffrey Sulitzer.

Based on that probe, the California attorney general filed a 24-page complaint in November, accusing Sulitzer of violating state law, defrauding state dental regulators, and acting with gross negligence toward patients while helping SmileDirect build its business.

The complaint alleges Sulitzer committed fraud when applying to operate dental offices in Californai while locations were controlled by SmileDirectClub, which does not have a license to practice dentistry in California and requires customers to sign liability waivers before getting treatment.

The company estimates it has had 750,000 customers for its direct-to- consumer, remotely-fitted substitute for braces,called aligners, which it sells for $1,895. SmileDirect offers refunds to customers who are not satisfied wth their service but, controversially, requires them to stay silent about their criticism of the company.

An attorney for SmileDirect, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, has responded by accusing the California dental board of retaliating over SmileDirect’s lawsuit against the board filed last year; the suit charged that the board engaged in an illegal investigation and anti-competitive campaign against the company.

Last October, California approved a bill requiring practitioners offering aligners to review a patient’s dental X-rays before prescribing orthodontic treatment.