Most tooth whitening services performed in spas, salons and shopping malls were outlawed last week by the Connecticut Dental Commission.
The commission, comprised of six dentists and one lay member, ruled tooth whitening “dentistry,” which must be performed under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Because tooth whitening had not been a licensed enterprise in Connecticut, it is difficult to determine how many businesses are affected by the ruling.
A similar action by North Carolina’s dental board prompted the Federal Trade Commission to sue that state for restraint of trade last year. The federal agency argued that state board, dominated by dentists, was eliminating competitors, who generally offered whitening at a lower cost than dentists themselves. FTC spokesperson Mitchell Katz said the agency had no comment yet on the Connecticut ruling.
“We’re not trying to inhibit any trade in the state,” said Commission Chairwoman Jeanne P. Strathearn, a West Hartford dentist. Strathearn said the commission based its ruling on testimony heard at a December 2010 hearing, where representatives from the state associations representing dentists, hygienists and dental assistants all spoke against non-dentists providing whitening independently.
They warned that the diagnosis of the cause of tooth discoloration requires professional assessment and that the agents used in whitening can be harmful. No one representing independent tooth whitening businesses spoke at the hearing.
“We had very reliable and credible witnesses who presented testimony,” said Strathearn.
The commission’s six-page ruling does not ban over-the-counter whitening strips commonly sold in pharmacy and supermarkets. “…the selling of teeth whitening gel of differing strengths by non-licensed persons is not, by itself, the practice of dentistry. It becomes the practice of dentistry when such unlicensed person either uses light in an attempt to enhance the product’s effectiveness or a person conducts an analysis of a person’s individual needs based upon an examination or evaluation,” the ruling states.
Salon owner Enzo Garro of Solar Escape in Waterbury said he believes the ruling would not apply to the tooth whitening he offers customers. “What we use is completely FDA approved and has nothing to do with dentistry,” he said, adding that customers apply the product themselves. “It’s just like going to CVS and buying yourself Crest White Strips.”
The Connecticut General Statutes provide for penalties of up to five years in prison for practicing dentistry without a license, but state officials spoke of far less drastic action. “DPH (Department of Public Health) doesn’t typically investigate unless there’s a complaint, so this may never come to pass,” said Strathearn.
If DPH receives a complaint, the department would investigate and pass the information on to the dental commission, which could issue a cease and desist order, according to spokesman William Gerrish. If the order is violated, DPH could turn the matter over to the state Attorney General, he said.