Interview with Alex Fenkell: How SmileDirectClub is providing desperately needed Covid-19 medical supplies

In New York City, a nurse in full personal protective equipment (PPE) sweeps past caution signs to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room. To the nervous patient, the gear looks like something from a science fiction movie or a bad dream, except this is not a dream. It is all too real.

The nurse looks empathetically at the patient’s frightened expression, truly understanding the fear she sees – an understanding created by the fears she harbors in her own heart. 

The nurse has been wearing the same N95 mask for four days. Her gear is overused, and though she has asked repeatedly for the supplies she needs, she has been denied. It seems surreal, to think that our health care systems are so unprepared, doesn’t it?

On the contrary, this scenario would seem all too familiar to many medical professionals who have worked through the ensuing months of this crushing Covid-19 pandemic. It is not the fault of their supervisors, who want to properly prepare them for each encounter. The cold reality is this: They simply don’t have the necessary supplies.

Hospitals, dentistry offices, nursing homes, and other close-contact healthcare facilities in the U.S. have been searching for answers. Communities have pulled together, along with small businesses, in an effort to provide more supplies to the workers who risk their well-being to take care of us when we need them most.

Fortunately, there is some much needed hope, smiling just around the corner. Through the use of their innovative 3D printing technology, SmileDirectClub’s team is paving the way for healthcare workers in the field to obtain the safety they need.

With one of the worlds largest 3D printing facilities at their disposal, SmileDirectClub is making an increasingly heavy impact.

In this interview with Alex Fenkell, co-founder of SmileDirectClub, we offer you an exclusive, insider look at the remarkable contributions made by their company. We’ll reveal how SmileDirectClub is fusing their humanity with technology, to help our country’s healthcare workers stay safe in this time of need.

Question: Alex, can you start by telling us what SmileDirectClub does and what your company is recognized for?

Alex: Sure. The simple answer is, we help people obtain their best smiles by straightening their teeth, without bulky metal braces, and at much more affordable cost. Approximately 80% of Americans could improve their health and appearance with some orthodontic care. Many in that group would like to take pride in their smile, but haven’t been able to afford it. 

My long-time friend and co-founder of this company, Jordan Katzman, had braces when we were thirteen. Kids grow up, as we did, and we decided to create SmileDirectClub to help bring that cost down. We use powerful innovations in 3D printing combined with doctor-directed expertise to create clear, comfortable aligners that achieve impressive results. The technology minimizes the expense for our customers, while maximizing the straightness of their beautiful, new smiles. 

What are we recognized for? Honestly, the results.

Question: Can you tell us how a company that makes clear aligners can help provide PPE gear to healthcare workers during the COVID-19 Crisis?

Alex: It allstarts with our 3D printers. At SmileDirectClub, we have the largest 3D printing facility in the U.S., containing a fleet of 60 3D printers. Our printers are capable of printing more than just aligners for people’s teeth. So, we decided to repurpose them for the cause and join in the fight.

Question: What did you initially decide to print with your army of 3D printers?

Alex: As soon as we heard the news about healthcare workers struggling to stay safe, we knew we had to do something. There was an explosion of reports that there wasn’t enough PPE gear for workers. They were actually being forced to reuse their gear!

We got on the web, searching high and low for designs, looking for equipment that we could print in high volume, which could then be utilized to keep those workers safe. The first items we started printing were medical face shields that snap easily together and help protect the workers from exposure to COVID-19.

Question: How many of these protective face shields have you made and what kind of volume are you capable of producing daily?

Alex: Today, we have printed over 40,000 face shields that are getting into the hands of medical professionals as we speak. As it stands, our fleet of 3D printers is able to produce an incredible 7,500 of these shields each day.

Question: Wow! That’s fantastic! How does it feel to know you may be saving the lives of our healthcare heroes?

Alex: We are so happy to be in a position where we can really help during these trying times. Our healthcare workers commit their lives to saving ours and keeping us healthy. They deserve all the support they can get, and the burden isn’t that of hospital workers alone. All medical professionals need protection now. From dentists, to podiatrists, to physical therapists, they all need protection during this unprecedented time.

Question: Sounds like a pretty full plate. Is it overwhelming to work so many tasks at once, and how is it affecting ‘business as usual’?

Alex:  Our team has really pulled together through this time to accomplish so much good. We’ve really gotta hand it to them. We plan to continue making our contributions to the fight against this pandemic, but we also want to keep a healthy balance with our ‘business as usual’. 

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