Ct Teeth Whitening

Sensational Smiles LLC v. Mullen
Entrepreneurs Challenge Connecticut’s Teeth-Whitening Monopoly

Lisa Martinez

Lisa Martinez can be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to five years in prison for selling teeth whitening products at a salon.

white out report on teeth whitening

What is the difference between whitening your teeth at home with a product you buy online and whitening your teeth at a shopping mall or salon with an identical product bought there? The person who sold you the product at the mall or salon can be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Teeth-whitening services are popular and increasingly available at spas, salons and shopping malls. In 2008, Lisa Martinez opened Connecticut White Smile in the Crystal Mall in Waterford, Conn., where she sold an over-the-counter whitening product and provided a clean, comfortable place for customers to apply the product to their own teeth, just as they would at home. But a recent ruling by the Connecticut Dental Commission has made it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail for anyone but a licensed dentist to offer the type of teeth-whitening services Lisa offered.   Unwilling to risk thousands of dollars in fines and years in prison, Lisa shut down her profitable business.

There is no health or safety reason to make it illegal for anyone other than a dentist to offer teeth-whitening services. In fact, teeth-whitening products are regulated by the FDA as cosmetics, which means anyone—even a child—can purchase them and apply them to their own teeth without a prescription and without supervision or instruction.

The real explanation for Connecticut’s new restrictions on teeth-whitening services is old-fashioned special-interest politics. Dentists routinely charge four times more than non-dentists for teeth-whitening services similar to those Lisa offered. Rather than try to compete by lowering prices or improving their services, the dental cartel is using government power to put their competition out of business.

The U.S. Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable regulations designed solely to benefit special interests. That’s why on November 16, 2011, the Institute for Justice teamed up with Lisa and teeth-whitening entrepreneurs Steve Barraco and Tasos Kariofyllis, owners of Smile Bright, to file a federal constitutional lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut to vindicate their right to earn an honest living.*

With Connecticut’s unemployment rate at nearly nine percent, this case raises a constitutional question of vital importance: May the government prohibit entrepreneurs from selling safe, over-the-counter products that people use at home every day just to protect a group of politically connected insiders from honest competition?


Essential Background


Backgrounder: A Reason to Smile in the Constitution State: Entrepreneurs Challenge Connecticut’s Teeth-Whitening Monopoly

Video on this case

Client Photo

Latest Release: Teeth-Whitening Ruling Is Nothing to Smile About: Federal Appellate Court Upholds Economic Protectionism in Teeth Whitening, Setting up Possible U.S. Supreme Court Showdown (July 17, 2015)

Launch Release: Ending Connecticut’s Teeth-Whitening Monopoly Would Mean Brighter Smiles for Entrepreneurs and Consumers (November 16, 2011)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Majority Opinion (July 17, 2015)

Concurrence (July 17, 2015)

Opinion: Denying Motion for Summary Judgment

Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Undisputed Facts

Plaintiff’s Response to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

Local Rule 56(a)(2) Response to Defendants’ Statement of Undisputed Facts

Plaintiff’s Reply in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Complaint (11/16/11)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


November 16, 2011

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut



 Current Court: 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals



Awaiting decision

  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Reports, Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Federal Court Narrows Restrictions on Non-Dentist Teeth Whitening (March 31, 2014)

REPORT: White Out: How Dental Industry Insiders Thwart Competition from Teeth-whitening Entrepreneurs


Map of Teeth-whitening Regulations and Enforcement

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Editorials: Des Moines Register’s Pulitzer Finalist series on licensing

Article: Conn. Teeth-Whitening Rules Challenged in Court Associated Press (November 16, 2011)

Article: Whitening Upstarts Make Dentists Gnash Teeth The Wall Street Journal (November 16, 2011)
Article: Ruling could give dentists a big reason to smile The Day (March 28, 2011)
Video: IJ's Chip Mellor Discusses Government Mandated Licensing With John Stossel (3 of 3); Stossel (March 26, 2010)

* On December 17, 2012, Plaintiff Lisa Martinez voluntarily dismissed her claims against the members of the Connecticut Dental Commission.  Sensational Smiles LLC, d/b/a Smile Bright, remains a plaintiff in the case.

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