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CVS moves into dental care with teeth-straightening service

On Long Island, SmileDirectClub locations are in Hauppauge, Uniondale and Bohemia; others are planned to open next week in CVS stores in Bay Shore and Seaford.

Dental assistant Jessica Buendia works in SmileDirectClub's SmileShop

Dental assistant Jessica Buendia works in SmileDirectClub's SmileShop located inside a CVS store in Downey, Calif., on Wednesday. Photo Credit: AP/Jae C. Hong

CVS Health is venturing into dental care with plans to offer a relatively new teeth-straightening service.

The drugstore chain said Thursday that it will add SmileDirectClub locations to hundreds of its stores, where customers can get started on getting their teeth straightened without an in-person visit with a dentist or orthodontist. That lack of an office visit has drawn criticism from orthodontists.

On Long Island, two SmileDirectClub locations will open in CVS stores — in Bay Shore and Seaford — May 2, said Carrie Moore, spokeswoman for Nashville-based SmileDirectClub. Aside from those inside local CVS stores, there are SmileDirectClub locations in Hauppauge, Uniondale and Bohemia.

“Today, SmileDirectClub SmileShops are open in 13 CVS Pharmacy locations in eight states and we will continue to expand to hundreds more throughout 2019 and beyond,” said CVS Health spokesman Joe Goode, who said the drugstore chain began piloting the shops in February. 

CVS Health, which is based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and other drugstores have been pushing in recent years to add more services to their store locations, in part to help their customers stay healthy. But they're also trying to attract customers in to buy more profitable beauty products and to stave off competition from online retailers including Amazon, which provides same-day delivery for many of the products that drugstores sell outside their pharmacies.

Under the CVS plan, customers get a 3D image of their mouth made by a SmileDirect employee at one of the drugstore locations. The image is sent to a dentist or orthodontist who approves the patient's treatment plan. Patients are shipped clear, removable aligners designed to straighten their teeth.

They check in remotely with a dentist or orthodontist, often by smartphone. The service costs $1,850 before insurance.

The American Association of Orthodontists has criticized the service, warning that in-person visits are important in this type of care. Dentists can spot gum disease during these visits and X-rays can detect bone loss not seen in a photo, the group's lawyer Sean Murphy said.

"Our concern is patient health and safety," Murphy said.

CVS Pharmacy president Kevin Hourican said he has no concerns about safety with SmileDirect, which he said provides a "high quality" product and limits care to patients who don't have complex dental needs.

SmileDirect, which started in 2014, has served more than half a million people, Moore said. She said in an email that it is common for "traditional industry representatives to balk" when a new business model gains acceptance.

CVS Health also will add SmileDirect service as a covered option in the dental care network of its recently acquired Aetna health insurance business. Another insurer, UnitedHealthcare, announced a similar coverage expansion Thursday.

The SmileDirect locations will appear in only a small percentage of CVS Health's 9,800 retail locations nationally. But company officials say they may eventually expand to more than a thousand locations. The company started testing the approach in a few stores last fall.

CVS Health found in its pilot that the SmileDirect locations attracted younger, new customers.

"People want to improve their smile, and they feel better about themselves," Hourican said.

With Tory N. Parrish

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