Kristi Noem faces lawsuit and toothy questions over her viral endorsement of Texas dentists

Gov. Kristi Noem is facing legal action after her latest endorsement caused an online furor that now risks taking a bite out of her standing in South Dakota at a time when she’s rumored to be among the front-runners on Donald Trump’s vice presidential shortlist.

Nearly 48 hours after she posted an uncanny, infomercial-style testimonial video – running nearly five minutes – in praise of the deluxe work she received at Smile Texas, a Houston-area cosmetic dentistry firm, Noem and her political team have not responded to questions over why she traveled so far for the procedure and whether the clip, which features images of her speaking at a political rally, was used to pay or defray from the cost of the work.

Noem is also facing a new lawsuit, filed by the consumer advocacy group Travelers United, accusing Noem of doing an “undisclosed advertisement” for Smile Texas.

“There are many dentists and cosmetic dentists in South Dakota,” the lawsuit claims, adding, “No one with an extremely important job in the South Dakota would fly to Texas to receive dental treatment and then sit in that office and film an advertisement without some form of compensation.”

Drs. Rick Kline and Bret Davis, a pair of dentists at Smile Texas, have, according to federal records, donated to Republican candidates and, in Kline’s case, the Texas state GOP. Davis, in a post to the Smile Texas Instagram account, used some of the video of Noem and wrote, “This gracious leading lady @kristinoem just received an executive, feminine, beautiful smile here at Smile Texas.” Neither is on record donating to Noem.

For all the fuzziness, at least one thing is clear: the South Dakota governor is delighted with the results.

“I love that my bite is better, that my teeth are a better shape, that they feel better in my mouth,” Noem says in the spot, speaking directly to the camera. “I can be confident when I smile at people and know that they can actually appreciate and see the kindness in my face and the love that I have for them.”

CNN has reached out to Noem and Smile Texas asking about their financial arrangement and to the governor’s office about why she sought the treatment out-of state. None have responded.

In the video, Noem explains that she has long been self-conscious about her teeth and that she knocked out a bunch of them years ago during a bicycle accident. When the Smile Texas team showed Noem her new grill, the governor says, she began to cry.

“I think it was because I had an uncle that was an orthodontist and he did braces on all of his nieces and nephews, everyone, except for me,” Noem says. “And I remember being a little girl and him saying, your teeth just aren’t bad enough.”

That assessment, she adds, lingered in her mind as she got older and “thought and hoped that someday I could address it.”

Nowadays, Noem’s smile is featured in a series of television ads touting her “Freedom Works Here” workplace recruitment campaign, which, at a cost of about $5 million, has raised the ire of a handful of South Dakota leaders from both parties. Their gripes include fuzzy metrics for success and how the contract for the campaign, which is handled by the governor’s office, was given to a firm with roots in Ohio – the same one that consulted on her 2022 reelection campaign. (Its CEO, Benjamin Yoho, had the same title on Vivek Ramaswamy’s 2024 presidential campaign.)

The spots feature Noem, front and center, play-acting at an assortment of jobs and touting the economic benefits of pulling up stakes and moving to South Dakota to delight in a business-friendly, worker-needy economy and the promise “you’ll never pay a penny in personal state income tax.”

Noem isn’t the first South Dakota leader to spend state bucks in a bid to draw prospective employees to the Mount Rushmore State. (Notably – or not – none of the faces on the monument itself show their choppers.)

In 2015, the administration of her predecessor, Dennis Daugaard, cheerfully asked Americans, “Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?”

Compelling as that pitch might’ve been, Noem, who became governor in 2019 and previously served in Congress and the South Dakota legislature, adjusted course and ultimately inserted herself as the pitchwoman, talking up the jobs available in a variety of industries.

In one of the spots, she appears as a police officer. In another, as a welder, then as a nurse and even an accountant.

She also shows up on screen wearing scrubs, safety glasses and a mask, sitting beside a reclining patient – head back, looking skyward, sounding anesthetized – as a dentist.

CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Chris Boyette and Andi Babineau contributed to this report.

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