MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - When Kelly Markos started offering teeth
whitening in her upscale salon, she thought it would be a nice
addition to her lineup of eyelash extensions, temporary tattoos and
But then an inspector for the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners
ordered her to stop, accusing her of practicing illegal dentistry.
Markos' ongoing lawsuit with the state has waded into the murky
area of regulating teeth-whitening products that are increasingly
offered in settings outside the dentist's office, such as salons
and mall kiosks.
The dental industry claims it's a health and safety issue; the
beauty parlors say the dentists are just trying to brush them out
of a lucrative niche.
"As a new business owner, I'm trying to bring something new and
innovative to the salon. And then to be threatened to be shut down
before I really even had it going was more than a little
frustrating," Markos said recently while blow-drying a customer's
freshly cut hair. "I believe that this is a cosmetic service and
we are on the right side of the law."
But Dr. Leslie Seldin, a dentist for 43 years and now consumer
adviser and spokesman for the American Dental Association, said
it's hard to know whether those bleaching trays or ultraviolet
lights are sanitary or safe.
In some salons, the whitening is sometimes facilitated by people
wearing white coats who hand the trays to customers to put into
their own mouths or adjust the lights over their teeth.
But the ADA is worried customers might wrongly think salon
employees are health care professionals.
"We do not know about what level of sterilization and
disinfection is being done. You're dealing with something that is
totally unregulated," Seldin said.
Many of the same products are available in stores for customers
to use on themselves at home.
"What we ultimately feel this boils down to is a
consumer-rights issue, because consumers should have the right to
whiten their teeth any way they want to whiten their teeth as long
as it's safe," said Paul Klein, vice president of White Smile USA.
The Atlanta-based company licenses its whitening products to
locations in 23 states, including Markos' salon.
Whitening at a salon or mall shop using bleaching trays or
ultraviolet light usually costs about $100 to $200. It can cost up
to $400 and more at a dentist's office.
A Montgomery judge has ruled in favor of Alabama's dental board
in a lawsuit brought by White Smile USA and Markos, finding that
whitening constitutes the practice of dentistry and requires a
Birmingham attorney Jim Ward, who represented the Alabama board
in the case, said the issue is being addressed in several states,
including Wyoming, Louisiana, North Carolina, Minnesota and New
Mexico, and that many have reached the same conclusion as the
Klein said his company has been discussed in New Mexico and
Tennessee but there's never been any court involvement until
"We feel the state is trying to use their regulatory power to
protect a monopoly for the dentists, and we don't think that's
right," he said.
Last month, the Tennessee Board of Dentistry, following
complaints about mall kiosks, changed its rules to clarify that
whitening can only be performed by licensed dentists or hygienists
and dental assistants under their direct supervision.
"It's amazing - we never touch the customer's mouth, never
touch the customer, period, and we don't see how that could
possibly be practicing dentistry," said Klein, who was visibly
agitated as he discussed the situation.
Ohio's dental board agreed with Klein last year, finding that
while it does have some concerns about unregulated use of the
materials, whitening by non-dentists is OK as long as consumers
position the light by themselves, put the material on their own
teeth, and no one else touches their mouths.
"Simply providing a consumer with the materials to make a tray
and demonstrating to them how to apply materials to their teeth for
bleaching purposes is not the practice of dentistry," the board
said in its decision.
The ADA's Seldin said that he first saw such whitening being
done on a cruise about seven years ago, but that the practice has
really taken root within the past four or five years.
"The American Dental Association has a policy but that's not
enforceable in any way," he said. "The dental boards and
governments of states are going to have to figure out how they're
going to handle it."
White Smile USA: http://www.whitesmileusa.com/