Legal feud over dental service shows no sign of lightening up

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Mark Blevis via Flickr

Mark Blevis via Flickr

A long feud between North Carolina’s state dental board and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services may have wider implications for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide.

The case of North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, with oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 14. At issue is whether non-dentists should be allowed to bleach teeth.

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and many dentists offer the service, which involves applying peroxide-containing preparations to the teeth.

Do-it-yourself whitening kits are available in pharmacies. In some states, retail salons and mall kiosks offer teeth-whitening services.

In at least 25 states, dental boards have taken steps to shut down these establishments, according to a report by the Institute for Justice (IJ) a non-profit libertarian law firm. Since 2005, at least 14 states have changed their laws and regulations and now ban all but licensed dentists, hygienists and assistants from performing tooth-whitening procedures, according to the IJ.

Dental organizations back such restrictions, arguing that the retailers are practicing dentistry without a license and contending they could be putting customers at risk.

The details of the cases vary from state to state. But the Supreme Court’s decision in the North Carolina case could have wider implications for tooth-whitening shops – and for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide.

See this new tip sheet on the legal battles over teeth whitening, including details of the situation in a number of states, relevant court cases, statements and other useful coverage.

And be sure to watch Covering Health for coverage of the Oct. 14 Supreme Court arguments.

1 thought on “Legal feud over dental service shows no sign of lightening up

  1. Pingback: Supreme Court hears case over teeth whitening, professional board’s power | Association of Health Care Journalists

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