Supreme Court weighs in on teeth whitening

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY: The U.S. Supreme Court officially ruled that a state dental board in North Carolina cannot regulate teeth-whitening services due to the board being mainly comprised of dentists.

Posted: February 25, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court officially ruled that a state dental board in North Carolina cannot regulate teeth-whitening services due to the board being mainly comprised of dentists. The board's intention was to exclude non-dentists from performing teeth-whitening procedures that, in North Carolina, are offered at salons and malls, according to Reuters. In a 6-3 ruling, the court supported the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in opposition to the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners on antitrust claims. 

Conflict of interest 
In this particular case, dentists on the state board were seen as having a financial incentive when attempting to limit teeth-whitening services to dental offices. Malls and other outlets generally offer these services at a cheaper rate than a private practice, so if the state board banned such services it would be essentially eliminating its competitors. This case may prove important in resolving similar disputes pertaining to a number of U.S. states.

"As a result of today's decision, states may find it necessary to change the composition of medical, dental and other boards, but it is not clear what sort of changes are needed to satisfy the test that the court now adopts." Justice Samuel Alito, one of the dissenters, wrote in a statement. 

In the past, dentists have attempted to scare external vendors from offering teeth-whitening services by citing that they are practicing dentistry without a license. According to the Associated Press, the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners sent cease-and-desist notices to mall kiosks in 2006 until they were pressured into closing. AP further noted that dentists charge about $300 to $700 for a standard whitening kit. As a result, this potentially makes the cost of teeth-whitening unaffordable for many individuals. 

This decision will likely give the federal government more say over self-regulated federal boards. In a statement, FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez expressed, "The court's decision makes clear that state agencies (the dental board) constituted in this manner are subject to the federal antitrust laws unless the state actively supervises their decisions."

Currently, North Carolina law does not specify if teeth whitening constitutes dentistry, meaning that as of now it can be practiced in the state without a license. How exactly this will alter the way in which professional boards are regulated and composed is yet to be seen. 

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