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NC Dental Board Outlaws Teeth-whitening, FTC Says No Way

Posted: June 21, 2010

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Instead of seeking court orders to block nondentists from providing teeth-whitening services, which the Dental Board believes constitute unauthorized practice of dentistry under North Carolina law, the Dental Board has unilaterally ordered nondentists to stop providing whitening services. The Dental Board’s actions, according to the FTC, are improper and harm competition.

“Without active supervision by a disinterested state authority, a regulatory board whose members have a financial interest in the industry it is charged with regulating cannot exclude its competitors from the marketplace,” said Richard Feinstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “The North Carolina Dental Board does not have authority to decide on its own to limit the whitening services available to North Carolina residents, and its actions have decreased competition and harmed consumers.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, the Dental Board sent 42 letters instructing teeth-whitening providers that they were practicing dentistry illegally and ordering them to stop. In at least six cases, the Dental Board threatened or discouraged nondentists who were considering opening teeth-whitening businesses. The Dental Board also sent at least 11 letters to third parties – mall owners and property management companies – stating that teeth-whitening services offered in malls are illegal.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that as a result of the Dental Board’s actions, the availability of teeth-whitening service in North Carolina has been significantly diminished. The complaint charges that the Dental Board’s conduct is an anticompetitive conspiracy among the dentist members of the Dental Board in violation of federal law. The FTC seeks to stop the Dental Board’s illegal conduct so that North Carolina consumers can benefit from competition between dentists and nondentists for teeth-whitening services.

The Commission vote approving the administrative complaint was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Julie Brill recused. It was issued today, and a public version will be available shortly on the FTC’s website and as a link to this press release.