Teeth Whitening Entrepreneur Bites Back

June 4, 2014

In Georgia, entrepreneurs who compete with dentists to offer teeth-whitening services can be charged with a felony, imprisoned for up to five years and fined $500 per customer. This is because the Georgia Board of Dentistry–made up of eight dentists and only one non-dentist—has irrationally deemed teeth-whitening entrepreneurs to be engaged in the “unlawful practice of dentistry.”

The dentists’ monopoly on teeth whitening has nothing to do with health or safety and everything to do with protecting dentists from honest competition. Trisha Eck is the latest victim of this law.

In 2012, Trisha was looking for a way to bring in some extra money for her family with a flexible schedule so she could spend time with her grandkids. Trisha got the idea to open a teeth-whitening business after seeing others do it and attending a teeth-whitening trade show.

She opened Tooth Fairies Teeth Whitening that year and rented space at a medi-spa near her home in Warner Robins, Ga. She sold pre-packaged, over-the-counter teeth-whitening products, like the kind sold in drugstores. These products are safe, and the FDA regulates them as cosmetics. Trisha never had a complaint. Her business did not involve touching any customer’s mouth or performing any cleaning. She simply instructed her customers on how to apply the products to their own teeth in her clean, comfortable spa environment. By charging as little as $79, and with the help of referrals, Trisha soon turned a profit. Her success gave her confidence to advertise on the radio and through direct mail to neighbors. But in March 2014, just as the business was gaining steam, she was hit with a cease-and-desist order from the Dental Board demanding that she close her business or face jail and crippling fines. Dentists routinely charge up to five times more for teeth-whitening services than teeth-whitening entrepreneurs like Trisha. Dentists across the country have been lobbying hard for regulations that ban anyone else from offering the service. As the Institute for Justice documented in its 2013 report “White Out,” at least 14 states since 2005 have changed their laws or regulations to exclude all but licensed dentists, hygienists or dental assistants from offering teeth-whitening services. At least 25 state dental boards, now including Georgia, have ordered teeth-whitening businesses to close. IJ is currently representing other beleaguered teeth-whitening entrepreneurs challenging regulations similar to Georgia’s in Connecticut and Alabama.

The right to earn an honest living free from arbitrary government interference is one of the most important rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Giving dentists the power to outlaw their own competition is not just bad policy; it’s unconstitutional.

That’s why Trisha teamed up with IJ in April to file a federal lawsuit against the Dental Board to strike down Georgia’s monopoly on teeth whitening. A victory will not only save Trisha’s business, but vindicate economic liberty for entrepreneurs throughout Georgia and the nation. That should give all Americans a reason to smile.

Larry Salzman is an IJ attorney.

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