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Pandemic-proof? Align Technology sold a record number of clear aligners in 2020

Invisalign shipments reached new heights in 2020—more than 498,000 cases were sent to teenage patients, representing an increase of 11.5%. (Image: AUWAE PHOTO/Shutterstock)
Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International

Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International

Wed. 10. February 2021


TEMPE, Ariz., U.S.: Align Technology sold a record 1.6 million cases of clear aligners in 2020—the same year in which most governments and businesses around the world hemorrhaged money while being starved of income. The clear aligner maker did a lot for dentists and orthodontists last year and is now reaping the rewards. Moreover, the digital workflows behind clear aligner therapy are helping dentists and orthodontists to keep patient numbers high.

Clear aligner case starts have remained high during the pandemic. When dental practices reopened in mid-2020 after the first wave of lockdowns, the high number was thought to be due to pent-up demand. The “Zoom effect” was subsequently hypothesized as a contributing factor. Owing to the pandemic, millions of consumers around the world were suddenly accompanied throughout the working day by thumbnail-sized videos of themselves—a constant reminder of one’s perceived faults—and this is thought to have resulted in higher demand for cosmetic medical treatment, including orthodontic care. But as the largest clear aligner manufacturer continued to deliver strong results throughout 2020, it became clear that there was more at work than pent-up case starts and video calls.

In 2020, Align sold 1,645,000 cases of clear aligners, and this earned the company a record $2.1 billion (€1.7 billion). The previous year—2019—had been a year of new records for the company, when it sold 1,525,000 cases of clear aligners for $2 billion. During a conference call with analysts, Joseph M. Hogan, director, president and CEO of Align Technology, highlighted some interesting additional figures behind the growth in case numbers.

Notably, in the fourth quarter of 2020, adoption of Invisalign by adults and teenagers increased by 36.7% and 38.7%, respectively. For the full year, more than half a million teens or younger patients started treatment with Invisalign, and this accounted for more than 30% of total Invisalign cases—an increase of 11.5% compared with 2019.

The company also shipped Invisalign cases to more dentists. In the fourth quarter, it shipped cases to 77,000 dentists around the world—7,300 of whom were first-time customers. For the full year, the company shipped cases to 49,615 dentists in the Americas region (compared with 47,130 in 2019) and to 52,445 dentists outside of the Americas (compared with 48,650 in 2019).

[The] market for digital orthodontics and restorative dentistry is massive and has been unleashed by the need for digital”

Hogan said that the company was able to engage with more dentists through its pandemic support programs and through increased efforts to provide dentists with digital workflow solutions. Launched in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, the Ortho Recovery 360 Program aimed to support orthodontists as they reopened their clinics after periods of forced or voluntary closure owing to the pandemic. By the end of the fourth quarter, 3,200 orthodontists had enrolled in the program. The company also launched a bracket buyback–switch program in North America in the second quarter, which encouraged dentists to swap fixed appliances for Invisalign retainers in existing patients. It also offered a buyback of archwires and brackets and other inventory. According to Hogan, the program resulted in around 10,000 new case shipments in both the third and fourth quarters.

In his closing comments, Hogan said: “With 15 million orthodontic case starts annually and more than 500 million consumers who can benefit from a better smile, the market for digital orthodontics and restorative dentistry is massive and has been unleashed by the need for digital.”

He continued: “In a macro sense, COVID-19 has accentuated the benefits and pervasiveness of the digital economy. From an Align standpoint, practices across every region are embracing digital treatment in new ways and more purposefully than ever before. Invisalign providers are using our virtual tools to minimize in-office appointments and deliver doctor-directed, personalized treatment that meets the needs of the moment and that will reshape the future of treatment.”

Hogan added in a press release that 2020 was a year unlike any other and that it was marked by loss and separation but also by recovery and renewal and record highs and lows. It remains to be seen whether Align can continue to set new records as the pandemic continues in 2021.

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