Who Should Offer Teeth Whitening? N.C. Dentist Dispute Heads to U.S. Supreme Court
Are businesses that whiten your teeth in mall kiosks and other retail spaces providing a dental service?
That’s the question behind a major legal dispute between the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners and the Federal Trade Commission. The case, which will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court, is being watched by state officials and regulatory agencies across the country.
Is teeth whitening dentistry or cosmetics?
The N.C. dentist's board wants businesses that provide teeth whitening with LED light treatment or whitening gel trays to be licensed and regulated like all dentists.
The FTC says the state dental board, which issued cease-and-desist letters to unlicensed teeth-whitening providers, is trying to restrict competition.
Highly rated dentist Eric Moskowitz of Concord, North Carolina, says whitening is not a significant source of revenue for any of the North Carolina dentists he knows. But he shares concerns of the cosmetic dentists across the state about how dental health could be compromised for some patients by whitening or the unlicensed practitioners who provide it in some retail storefronts.
The dispute is about the health of patients, not the bottom line of dentists, Moskowitz says. “It’s not about limiting business, but about regulating the practice of dentistry,” he says.
Concerns about teeth whitening safety, effectiveness
Moskowitz says that teeth whitening might not be advisable for patients who have poor dental health or have had significant dental work. He doesn’t have significant safety concerns for most others, but he says people can suffer burns from the tooth bleaching solution and may need follow-up dental treatment.
Also, patients with tooth crowns and dental fillings may not realize that the whitening solutions won't improve the color of those teeth, says Moskowitz.
He says that a licensed dentist can better provide guidance on both the risks and benefits of the procedure. “Anyone considering whitening should have an exam beforehand,” he says.
Many dentists offer take-home or office teeth-whitening programs that involve 10 to 14 days of treatments with trays of whitening gels. The whitening treatments generally cost from $200 to $500.
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