Teeth Whiteners = Small-business Owners or Mall-Kiosk-Criminals?

The growth in over-the-counter teeth whitening products isn’t just proof of their popularity—it’s a testament to how these products provide a viable business model for entrepreneurs working hard to climb the economic ladder with little startup capital. Unfortunately, some dentists across the country are unhappy about this safe, cheap alternative to their services, and have been using their political clout to bite down on independent teeth whiteners.

South Carolina is the latest state to get in on the action. A pending bill seeks to define any effective form of teeth whitening as the practice of dentistry. That would leave current teeth whitening entrepreneurs with the meager option of offering their customers products far weaker than the Crest Whitestrips available for personal purchase and use in drug stores. You read that right: it’s safe enough to buy off the shelf and use at home, but too dangerous for someone to sell to you at a spa.

Tell your South Carolina state legislators that teeth whitening is not a crime.

What exactly is it that teeth whiteners do for their customers? They sell the customer over-the-counter teeth-whitening products, provide instructions on how to use those products, and give their customers a clean, comfortable place to sit while they apply those products to their own teeth, just as they would at home. Sometimes these entrepreneurs also point a harmless LED light at the patron’s mouth, which is thought to speed along the whitening process. At no point does the customer experience health and safety concerns, and at no point does the seller put their hands in the customer’s mouth. That doesn’t sound much like the practice of dentistry.

The Institute for Justice is currently advocating for the rights of teeth whitening entrepreneurs in Connecticut, Alabama and Georgia. In March of 2014 we secured a ruling allowing our Connecticut clients, Lisa Martinez, Steve Barraco and Tasos Kariofyllis, to return to work after being shut down by their state’s overzealous dental commission. At the same time, the Supreme Court has granted review in a case involving the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners’ similar effort to shut down non-dentist teeth whiteners. In that case, a federal court concluded that the Board’s actions harmed consumers by forcing them to pay higher prices for fewer choices. That’s the definition of protectionism.

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