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SmileDirectClub cofounder Alex Fenkell on the importance of social responsibility during a time of crisis

SDC: 3D Printing Medical Equipment to Support COVID-19 Response

The population has faced many hard-hitting realities over the past few months as the COVID-19 pandemic surged around the world. Millions of people have suffered from health disparities and the U.S. economy has plummeted, leaving millions more out of a job.

There is a silver lining amidst the darkness, and it is humanity. We are seeing people come together like never before, reaching out to help those they likely have never even met. People are making meaningful connections to neighbors, friends, and family members, many of whom they have not seen or talked to in years. Even businesses that may not have had a strong hand in community outreach in the past are stepping up to provide what they can with the resources they have. It has truly been inspiring to watch the people of this world unite.

One of the incredible impacts being made is through the manufacturing of PPE, to provide our frontline workers the safety gear they need to continue saving lives. A leader in this effort is SmileDirectClub, a teledentistry platform that manufactures orthodontic appliances.

In this interview, we talk with cofounder of SmileDirectClub, Alex Fenkell to discuss his company’s outlook on the importance of giving back during a time when businesses, and people, are simply trying to survive.

Q: Can you share a bit on what SmileDirectClub does and how you have transitioned your business model to providing PPE to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic?

AF: SmileDirectClub is the first teledentistry platform that provides orthodontics direct to consumer. We operate one of the largest 3D printing facilities in the U.S. with 60-3D printers on site. Upon hearing the news of the shortage of PPE in our hospitals and emergency rooms, we came to a decision as a team to provide support. To date, we have suppled over 40,000 face shields and others supplies to healthcare and dental facilities throughout the U.S.

Q: One of the industries hit hard by the economic effects of the pandemic is dentistry. Can you explain how you are supporting dentists and how they are able to connect to their patients?

AF: Absolutely. One of the unique effects of a pandemic during this time is seeing just how far our technology has come. We have an amazing team that works hard everyday to ensure our teledentistry platform is working for the consumer.

SmileDirectClub supports dentists and orthodontists across the country by providing them free access to our platform, which has helped them communicate with patients remotely, continuing to provide care through recommendations and arranging for emergency treatment.

We have also opened our referral network to allow dentists the opportunity to connect with new patients.

Q: Can you share what else you have done, or are currently working on, to protect the health and safety of our community?

AF: Most importantly, we have partnered with HP to begin production of 3D printed and validated reusable respirator masks with replaceable filters as an alternative to the shortage of disposable N95 masks. Our goal is to make an affordable, quality mask that meets safety standards available to all who need it.

Additionally, following the temporary mandated closures of our SmileDirectClub SmileShops, we partnered with over 120 CVS and Walgreens retailers across the U.S. to provide them with medical supplies we had on hand, such as latex gloves and masks.

Q: You mentioned your SmileShops have temporarily closed, how is the company dealing it, and how are you protecting your employees?

AF: We believe it is in the best interest of our team members and our customers to keep our stores closed until health officials deem it safe to reopen. We do not want to rush the process because there is so much we still don’t know about the virus. Unfortunately, like many businesses that have been forced to close, we had to furlough much of our staff who operate the SmileShops. We will be grateful for the day that we can safely reopen and are looking forward to welcoming back our team members.

Q: One final question, please explain why social responsibility is so crucial during this time of crisis.

AF: I’ve learned that the more you succeed, the more you should give back to those who also want a chance at success. SmileDirectClub has an opportunity to help build a stronger, more resilient community and we want to do as much as we can to provide that support.