It doesn’t seem like it should be a controversial decision: teeth whitening is a cosmetic dentistry procedure and therefore should only be performed by dentists. However, that very decision has put the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners in the crosshairs of an antitrust complaint by the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission says that the Board acted improperly in a way that limits competition in the marketplace to the detriment of consumers.
As the FTC Sees It
The FTC is stepping in because the Board’s actions may not have been properly conducted. The Board didn’t seek court orders to stop non-dentists from performing teeth whitening, but, instead, sent numerous letters claiming that teeth-whitening offered by non-dentists was illegal. Letters were sent to:
Businesses offering teeth whitening services
People considering starting a teeth whitening business
Mall owners and property management companies that leased space used to offer teeth whitening
The unilateral action, including attempting to intimidate people considering starting a business, seemed like it was an attempt to stifle competition in a way that “harmed consumers.”
The FTC notes that teeth whitening is often offered for much less by people other than a dentist.
The American Dental Association Joins the Conflict
This month, the ADA has joined the battle, weighing in with its support for the Board. The Board has tried several times to get relief from the FTC’s censure, but several times the courts have supported the FTC. Now the ADA has filed a writ to the US Supreme Court, hoping to get the verdict overturned and allow it to regulate teeth whitening by non-dentists.
An Alabama lawsuit against their dental board alleges that the relative safety of teeth whitening shows that the motivation behind the practice of limiting teeth whitening to dentists is motivated by profit, not safety. The complainants note that only 4 of 97 allegations brought against non-dentist tooth whiteners were for safety concerns.
Previously, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) has stated that teeth whitening should be considered practicing dentistry because of related risks that may be related to teeth whitening, its misapplication, or oral health problems:
Plaque and calculus buildup
Tooth sensitivity, either before or after whitening
Misuse of teeth whitening compound on damaged teeth
Mismatch of coloration between whitened teeth and restorations like porcelain veneers or dental crowns
The AACD also notes that people who use mall services for teeth whitening may not see their dentist regularly and thus having these services may contribute to people going longer between dental visits, which may increase the need for emergency room visits for dental emergencies.
See a Dentist for Teeth Whitening
In South Carolina, the legislature is currently considering HB 3949, a law that would ban non-dentists from performing teeth whitening, but for now there are still many places you can get teeth whitening without seeing a dentist. But you shouldn’t.
In addition to the above dangers cited by the AACD, there are potential risks from the misuse of whitening compounds. Professional-strength whitening compounds can cause irritation or even injury if they are put on your gums, tongue, or cheeks. Non-dentists practicing outside a dentist office may not have the training or experience to ensure the compounds stay on your teeth. In addition, whitening compounds have a significant risk for overuse. When trying to remove stains that don’t respond well to teeth whitening, non-dentists may damage your enamel. Dentists are better able to recognize when stains will respond to whitening and when they won’t so you can get appropriate treatment without risk to your teeth.
To learn more about teeth whitening and other cosmetic dentistry procedures in Columbia, please contact the cosmetic dentists at Smile Columbia Dentistry or call