Supreme Court Makes Significant Ruling on Teeth Whitening

On Wednesday, Feb. 25, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that dentists can still perform teeth whitening procedures to whiten patients’ smiles — but they can’t decide who else can.

According to USA Today, the justices ruled 6-3 to reject an argument from a dentist-dominated North Carolina state board that sought to exclude non-dentists from the teeth whitening business. These non-dentists had been charging reduced rates to perform the procedures, often at shopping malls, spas, and various other stores.

In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that because the state board was primarily composed of active market participants, said board was running the risk of self-dealing by prohibiting non-dentists from whitening patients’ teeth.

“This conclusion … is an assessment of the structural risk of market participants’ confusing their own interests with the state’s policy goals,” Kennedy said.

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas made up the dissenting side of the ruling, maintaining that the dental board was acting according to North Carolina’s licensing requirements and in the best interests of consumers seeking to get their teeth whitened.

“Teeth whitening is considered to be generally safe for most individuals who have healthy teeth and gums,” says Michelle Richardson, Owner, Kirkland Dentistry. “Caution should be taken, however, if you have not been visiting your dentist on a regular basis to insure dental health. Unsupervised whitening runs the risk of simply being painful to being destructive and can do permanent damage.”

Many states foster hybrid agencies and boards that consist of experts in the industry who could profit from these agencies’ decisions. However, unlike the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, these agencies often include non-experts as well who don’t stand to profit from the decisions they make.

In Alabama, a similar argument over the power of a state dental board to restrict non-dentists’ ability to perform teeth-whitening procedures took place in October, according to ABC News. In this instance, the judge involved upheld the state board’s restrictions, describing them as “reasonably designed to protect the health of Alabama citizens.”

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