The nationwide boom in teeth straightening is poised to accelerate with the introduction of SmileDirectClub's braces alternative in certain CVS Pharmacy stores.
CVS Health plans to announce Thursday that it will devote sections of "hundreds" of stores to the surging startup's Smile Shops later this year after a pilot delivered promising results.
The move continues the drugstore chain's strategy of shifting more floor space from retail to health care services while cutting back on poorly selling products like greeting cards.
Customers will be able to start their SmileDirectClub treatment plan in stores by getting their teeth scanned and signing up for plastic teeth aligners, which straighten teeth over a course of months and can be removed temporarily for eating and drinking.
SmileDirectClub patients then receive aligners in shipments to their homes after their cases are reviewed remotely by an orthodontist or dentist.
"We believe it’s just a testament to the consumer’s trust in teledentistry and our business model as a leading solution for affordable and convenient smile care," Alex Fenkell, SmileDirectClub's co-founder, told USA TODAY.
CVS stores will devote "a very private environment in the back of the store" to the SmileDirectClub space, much like its MinuteClinic service for basic medical care, CVS Pharmacy President Kevin Hourican said.
Since more than 8 in 10 Americans live within three miles of one of CVS' 9,600 stores, the partnership extends teeth straightening services into communities that previously didn't have access to orthodontic care, the executives said.
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Hourican said CVS would add SmileDirectClub to more than 100 stores this year. Eventually, the partnership will end up "more than doubling" SmileDirectClub's current network of 246 stores, Fenkell said.
Hourican said the 13-store pilot showed that CVS will gain customers who previously would not have shopped there.
"We’re pleasantly surprised by the traffic that it’s driving," he said.
Hourican and Fenkell declined to reveal the financial arrangement of their store-within-a-store model.
SmileDirectClub and Align Technology's Invisalign are the leading sellers of plastic teeth aligners, which provide an alternative to braces and have led to a nationwide boom in orthodontic care.
In general, Invisalign, which has treated about 6 million cases since its founding in 1997, is capable of treating more complex cases and requires in-person visits. SmileDirectClub, which has treated more than 560,000 since its founding in 2014, handles less complex cases and does so through online correspondence, including chats and photos.
Align estimated last year in a public filing that 300 million people worldwide “could benefit from straightening their teeth but are unlikely to seek treatment through a doctor’s office.”
Prices range from about $2,000 for mild-to-moderate teeth straightening from start-ups like SmileDirectClub and Candid, to an average of $5,500 for Invisalign. Invisalign also offers a $2,500 option for correcting simple cases.
SmileDirectClub’s model has drawn criticism from the orthodontics industry. The American Association of Orthodontists, or AAO, has filed complaints against SmileDirectClub in at least 36 states, saying that the company’s do-it-yourself model violates dental-practice statutes.
The interest group has also issued a “consumer warning” about SmileDirectClub and other mail-order orthodontics businesses, saying that treatments must be done in person.
SmileDirectClub said its treatment is safe because each case is monitored remotely by a dentist or orthodontist.
CVS' Hourican said the retailer is comfortable with the company's approach.
Accusations of treatments gone wrong seem to have thin roots, Brandon Couillard, an analyst for Jefferies who tracks the teeth aligner industry, told USA TODAY in December.
SmileDirectClub also announced that it will immediately begin filing in-network insurance claims for UnitedHealthcare dental plan members and will do the same for CVS-owned Aetna's dental plan members beginning this summer.
While SmileDirectClub was already accepting insurance, customers have been required to submit claims for reimbursement on their own.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Hundreds' of CVS Pharmacy stores to get SmileDirectClub shops