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Teeth-whitening Legislation

By: Lauren Williamson
Posted: March 26, 2010, from the April 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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In September, Kansas adopted legislation that requires teeth whitening be performed under a dentist’s supervision. All told, more than a dozen states have teeth-whitening regulations either in place or pending.


The devil is in the details, says Deedee Crossett, Skin Inc. magazine advisory board member, member of the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, and founder of the San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology in San Francisco. “The challenge within the state of California is that it’s outside the scope of practice to insert anything into people’s mouths. If clients place the items into their mouths themselves, that might make it legal in some states,” she says. However, she reminds professionals to make sure they know what their insurance does—and does not—cover in the case of an accident. “If you’re driving a semitrailer truck but your driver’s license only covers you to drive a car, your insurance company isn’t going to help if you get into an accident. The same goes for professional liability insurance,” says Crossett.

Teeth whitening isn’t black and white, even among states that have been early adopters of the legislation. In Ohio, for example, professional-level teeth whitening can take place outside a dentist’s office, but only if the client places the tray in her own mouth, similar to the rules in California. Illinois’ proposed legislation would ban even the sale of professional-grade teeth-whitening supplies by nondental professionals.

Most states that regulate teeth whitening classify the treatment as a dental procedure, so an esthetician who performs a whitening service would violate the state’s dental licensing rules. The ADA petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November 2009 to review and regulate teeth-whitening products so that consumers who do seek teeth-whitening services outside of a dental office will make more informed decisions about electing the procedure.

“The ADA has legitimate concerns about the safe use of teeth-whitening products without the benefit of professional consultation or examination,” wrote ADA president Ronald L. Tankersley, DDS, and Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, DDS, ADA executive director, in a letter to the FDA accompanying the petition..