Federal Court Allows Challenge to Georgia Teeth-Whitening Law to Move Forward
ATLANTA— A judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has denied the Georgia Board of Dentistry’s motion to dismiss a challenge to a law that allows only licensed dentists to offer teeth-whitening services, even if those services consist of nothing more than selling an over-the-counter product that customers apply to their own teeth. The ruling by Judge Leigh Martin May, which came down yesterday afternoon, means that the lawsuit filed in December 2014 by teeth-whitening entrepreneur Christina Collins and the Institute for Justice (IJ) will move forward.
Until recently, Christina had a successful teeth-whitening business selling over-the-counter teeth-whitening products at a salon in which she provided her customers a clean, comfortable place to apply the products to their own teeth. Despite the fact that the products Christina uses and sells are the same products that people use every day at home, the Dental Board has said that she and other teeth-whitening entrepreneurs are engaged in “the lawful practice of dentistry”—a felony punishable by up to five years in jail and up to $500 in fines per customer. In August 2014, the dental board ordered Christina to shut down her business or face punishment.
“This law has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with protecting licensed dentists from competition,” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman, who represents Ms. Collins. “The right to earn a living is one of the most important rights protected by our Constitution, and today’s ruling means that Christina Collins will have her day in court to show that the Dental Board is violating that right.”
“I was shocked when the Dental Board shut me down and am grateful that this decision will let me prove that I and other teeth whiteners offer a useful and safe service,” said Collins.
Georgia is one of 30 states that have granted dentists a lucrative monopoly on teeth whitening, as the Institute for Justice documented in its 2013 report, White Out. The Institute for Justice is currently challenging these restrictions in Connecticut and Alabama as well. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners could be held liable under federal antitrust law for similar efforts to stifle competition by non-dentist teeth whiteners.
Sherman added, “What’s happening in Georgia is part of a much larger nationwide problem. Dental Boards across the country are using government power, not to protect the public, but to protect themselves from honest competition. That is not a legitimate use of government power, and today’s ruling will give us the opportunity to prove that.”
To learn more about this case, visit ij.org/georgia-teeth-whitening. Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.