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Whitening Teeth in Alabama is a Crime

— June 8, 2015



Whitening teeth in Alabama is a crime… Unless you’re a licensed dentist. The State Supreme Court handed down a decision upholding a lower court’s ruling that only licensed dentists can provide teeth bleaching services. One wonders, if it’s a violation of public health and safety to bleach teeth as a non-dentist, can non-dermatologists do depilatory body waxes? Or non-proctologists provide anal bleaching services? [Google it, it’s a thing. A very scary, “why would you ever?” thing.]

The answer, it would seem, is that dermatologists and proctologists don’t have licensing organizations quite as outspoken as their dental counterparts.

The plaintiffs, Keith Westphal and Joyce Osborn Wilson, claim that keeping them from providing smile-brightening services violates their due-process rights under Alabama’s constitution. Paul Sherman, plaintiffs’ attorney from the Institute for Justice, said “Today’s ruling doesn’t protect public safety; it protects licensed dentists from honest competition.” The IJ states that Alabama is one of about 30 states trying to put non-dentist teeth bleachers out of business. The organization believes that the state’s move is a result of pressure from the dental industry to eliminate competition.

The Alabama Dental Practice Act requires anyone offering to bleach human teeth, either as a practitioner or as a business owner telling someone else how to use the bleaching product, to be a dentist and to have a license from the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners. If you bleach teeth without such a license, you’ve committed a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year of hard labor.

A year of crushing rocks for bleaching teeth? Really? I’d hate to see what they do to lawyers practicing law without a license!

Curiosity got the better of me and I had to look. You really could get a year of hard labor for bleaching teeth without a dental license, but if you practice law without one, all you get is a fine not to exceed $500 and jail not to exceed six months or both. Apparently, the dermatologists, the proctologists and the lawyers in Alabama have very lenient licensing organizations compared to the dentists!

I could willingly represent a (hypothetical friend) defendant accused of murder in Alabama and I might get away with writing a $500 check, but let me touch your teeth and I’m on a chain gang! Wow. I’m stunned. It only costs five hundred bucks if I practice law without a license and a guy accused of murder goes free, but an experienced tooth bleacher who isn’t a dentist could get hard labor. Pardon me while I pick my priorities up off the floor.

The executive director of the dental board, Susan Wilhelm, said that the board has a “sworn duty” to uphold the law. She went on to say, “We must fulfill our directive to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

The state’s highest court concurs. The opinion, written by Justice James Allen Main, former president of the Alabama Pharmacy Association (small world, eh?), states:

“[W]e cannot say that the inclusion of teeth-whitening services, like those offered by Westphal and Wilson, within the definition of the practice of dentistry in the Dental Practice Act is not reasonably related to public health, safety, or general welfare. Teeth whitening is a form of dental treatment that requires the application of a chemical bleaching agent directly to the customer’s teeth … There is evidence indicating that some people have suffered peroxide burns of the lips and gums as a result of exposure to bleaching compounds; others experience, albeit temporarily, mild to moderate tooth sensitivity or irritation of the soft tissue in the mouth….

These concerns and others do not appear trivial. Given the deferential standard of review in a statutory challenge, we cannot say that provision that includes teeth-whitening services within the scope of the practice of dentistry, thus limiting the performance of those services to licensed dentists, violates the due-process protections of the Alabama Constitution.”

Once again: I could get a hypothetical guy off from a murder charge and only pay $500, the risk being that he really was guilty and might do it again, but burned lips that will heal and temporary tooth sensitivity is worth a year of hard labor. While it lacks any form of logic that I can see, I have to give a hat tip to the dentists for being such bulldogs. I guess if I spent my day with my hands in someone’s mouth (and hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans), I’d be crabby if somebody undercut me, too.

I’m just surprised the proctologists aren’t more upset.


Alabama High Court: Only Licensed Dentists Can Whiten Teeth

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