by: Mudita Agrawal

Teeth-whitening services can be expensive in a dentist’s office. It can range anywhere from $400 to $1,300. In North Carolina, spas, salons, and stores realized this and they began offering similar services for dramatically lower prices. By 2003, these spas and salons were spread all over the state.

Soon enough after these non-dentists began providing teeth-whitening services, there were several complaints from consumers such as bleeding or “chemically burned” gums. There were also complaints of procedures being performed without gloves or masks. As a result of this, the state dental board did an investigation, and more than 40 cease-and-desist letters to non-dentist teeth-whitening providers were issued. The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners accused the whitening businesses of practicing dentistry without a license and ordered them to stop the practice or face potential criminal charges. They also sent letter to malls asking them not to lease space to non-dentists who provided teeth whitening.

The Federal Trade Commission complained against the board on June 17, 2010, alleging that the board was harming competition by preventing non-dentists from providing teeth-whitening services in North Carolina. The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that the state regulatory scheme violated federal antitrust law by giving private dentists the power to knock out their competitors for personal gain.

The North Carolina state board then filed the case with the U.S. Supreme Court as they felt that the Supreme Court’s decision could have far-reaching implications. Since 2005, at least 14 states have changed their laws or regulations to exclude all but licensed dentists, dental hygienists or dental assistants from offering teeth-whitening services.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the decision that the North Carolina state dental board does not have the authority to regulate teeth whitening services. It was a decision with the potential to transform the makeup and reach of similar licensing boards across the country, including those that oversee lawyers, nurses, and doctors. This ruling may have far-reaching consequences for dentists and other professionals across The U.S. and the public they serve.

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