Federal Court Finds That Digital Scanning Constitutes the Practice of Dentistry

Dentistry Today


On May 8, a federal court dismissed most of the claims that SmileDirectClub filed in its lawsuit against the Georgia Board of Dentistry, which arose out of a state rule requiring digital scans for the fabrication of orthodontic appliances to be performed by an expanded duty dental assistant acting under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

The court dismissed all of the claims against the board as an entity as well as any claims against the board’s individual members seeking monetary damages. The only claims that were upheld were those against the individual members of the board seeking non-monetary relief. Also, the court rejected SmileDirectClub’s claim seeking a declaratory judgment that its digital scanning of patients’ teeth does not constitute the practice of dentistry or dental hygiene.

The court called this argument incorrect, stating that “taking digital scans of a patient’s mouth for the purpose of having a dentist or orthodontist approve of a treatment plan for correcting a malposition of the patient’s teeth falls squarely within the definition of the practice of dentistry as set forth” in state regulations. 

Accordingly, the court said, SmileDirectClub failed to state a plausible claim for declaratory relief, and the court granted the board’s motion to dismiss the first count of the complaint. This ruling stands in contrast to the position frequently taken by SmileDirectClub that it does not engage in the practice of dentistry and, therefore, its practices cannot be regulated by state dental boards, according to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).

On February 21, 2019, the AAO filed court papers supporting the positions of the board and its individual members in the lawsuit and in opposition to the claims and arguments made by SmileDirectClub.

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