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Dental Boards Look To Stop Teeth-Whitening At Salons

February 25, 2009

Dental boards are calling for stricter regulation of teeth-whitening products, as outside business such as salons and mall kiosks have begun selling the products, the Associated Press reported.

The dental industry claims it’s a health and safety issue, but beauty parlors argue dentists are simply trying to force them out of a lucrative niche.

Business owner Kelly Markos began selling teeth-whitening products at her upscale salon before an inspector for the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners ordered her to stop, accusing her of practicing illegal dentistry.

“As a new business owner, I’m trying to bring something new and innovative to the salon. And then to be threatened to be shut down before I really even had it going was more than a little frustrating,” Markos said.

“I believe that this is a cosmetic service and we are on the right side of the law.”

However, it’s hard to know whether those bleaching trays or ultraviolet lights are sanitary or safe, according to Dr. Leslie Seldin, a dentist for 43 years and now a consumer adviser and spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Some salons employ people wearing white coats who hand the trays to customers to put into their own mouths or adjust the lights over their teeth.

The ADA, it seems, is worried customers might wrongly think salon employees are health care professionals.

Seldin said since it is unregulated, the level of sterilization and disinfection being done is questionable. However, many of the same products are available in stores for customers to use on themselves at home.

Paul Klein, vice president of White Smile USA, called it a consumer-rights issue.

He said consumers should have the right to whiten their teeth any way they want as long as it’s safe. The Atlanta-based company licenses its whitening products to locations in 23 states, including Markos’ salon.

It typically costs $100 to $200 for teeth whitening at a salon or mall shop using bleaching trays or ultraviolet light. Dentists can charge up to $400 or more.

Alabama’s dental board won a lawsuit brought by White Smile USA and Markos, after the judge ruled that whitening constitutes the practice of dentistry and requires a license.

The issue is being addressed in several states, including Wyoming, Louisiana, North Carolina, Minnesota and New Mexico, and many have reached the same conclusion as the Alabama judge, according to Birmingham attorney Jim Ward, who represented the Alabama board in the case.

Klein said his company has been discussed in New Mexico and Tennessee but had never gone as far as court until the incident in Alabama.

“We feel the state is trying to use their regulatory power to protect a monopoly for the dentists, and we don’t think that’s right,” he said.

The Tennessee Board of Dentistry changed its rules last month to clarify that whitening can only be performed by licensed dentists or hygienists and dental assistants under their direct supervision, after receiving complaints about mall kiosks that were selling teeth whitening products.

“We never touch the customer’s mouth, never touch the customer, period, and we don’t see how that could possibly be practicing dentistry,” said Klein.

The Ohio dental board shared Klein’s views, ruling that while it does have some concerns about unregulated use of the materials, whitening by non-dentists is fine as long as consumers position the light by themselves, put the material on their own teeth, and no one else touches their mouths.

The board said in its decision: “Simply providing a consumer with the materials to make a tray and demonstrating to them how to apply materials to their teeth for bleaching purposes is not the practice of dentistry.”

Seldin said the American Dental Association has essentially created a policy that isn’t enforceable in any way.

“The dental boards and governments of states are going to have to figure out how they’re going to handle it.”

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