Two Transatlantic Court Cases Offer Opposing Views of Non-Professional Teeth Whitening

teeth-whiteningTeeth whitening is one of the most popular options currently available for patients seeking cosmetic dental work worldwide. In fact, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists reports that whitening is one of the most “economical” forms of treatment to achieve a brighter, better smile, and they’re right. You can pick up a box of whitening strips for about $30 at your local drugstore.

But a legal case from Lancaster in the United Kingdom has raised an important question regarding the smile-brightening business. Namely, who has the power to profit from these kinds of whitening services — dental professionals only, or non-licensed practitioners?

We already know you don’t have to visit a professional dentist to use over-the-counter, store-bought whitening treatments. But does the same thing go for in-person, chemical-based procedures? Can you skip a trip to the dentist (and save some serious cash) by finding a third-party whitening service somewhere outside of the medical community?

Hayley Wilding, a 25-year-old beautician from Northwest England, obtained her teeth whitening certification from a company in nearby Cardiff after a three-day course. Once she had the piece of paper, she took to carrying out whitening services right from her beauty salon. England’s General Dental Council wasn’t happy with this, so they pushed for prosecution and won, claiming that only “a dentist, dental therapist or a dental hygienist” can legally perform those kinds of services for patients.

Wilding was fined £3,500. But on January 25, it was announced that her case will be reopened.

Wilding claims she was never made aware of the prosecution, the ruling or the fine. Additionally, she says there was nothing about the whitening certification course she took that led her to believe it was inauthentic or illegal in any way.

“When this came out they reassured me as long as I use non-peroxide products, it’s perfectly legal,” Wilding says. “It’s so confusing.”

This confusion is part of the reason the case will be heard again by the Lancaster Magistrates’ Court.

It’s an interesting case, mainly because it shows the General Dental Council taking a stand and attempting to crack down on potentially hazardous pseudo-dentistry. Or does it? Could it perhaps reveal a larger truth about dental professionals and competition in the marketplace? That’s why this case is worth examining in the context of another recent legal battle — this one right on our home soil.

Last year, the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners decreed that only licensed dentists could offer teeth whitening services in the state. This was, whether intentionally or not, in keeping with the General Dental Council’s argument in England. But the United States’ Federal Trade Commission pushed against the board’s prohibition, stating it was an attempt by local dentists who all compete in the same market to push out potential competition from non-dentists.

The state-sanctioned board, however, argued that the FTC couldn’t interfere because it was a federal organization.

In the end, the Fourth Circuit court sided with the FTC, stating that the board was made up entirely of dentists whose financial interests lie specifically in the market they were attempting to impede upon. The board has petitioned a review of the case, which the FTC is urging the court not to consider.

At a glance, it might appear that these two cases suggest entirely different views of consumer safety. The U.K. case seems to protect patients from potentially dangerous non-professional dental care, while the U.S. case protects the businesses that offer the unlicensed whitening. It’s worth noting that while the U.S. tends to have different regulations in different states, the American Dental Association has consistently fought against businesses that perform whitening services without a license.

So, what’s the takeaway from these two cases? It looks like sticking with the tried-and-true method might just be to your benefit when it comes to polishing up your smile. Your dentist knows the risks and has undergone much more schooling than an unlicensed practitioner.

And when all else fails, there’s still that $30 box of drugstore whitening strips.


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