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A Spat Over Teeth-Whitening Businesses

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A Spat Over Teeth-Whitening Businesses


A Spat Over Teeth-Whitening Businesses

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Last month, Tennessee became the most recent of a handful of states to crack down on the teeth-whitening business. Around the country there are kiosks at shopping malls occupied by companies with names like Bleach Bright, I Smile, I-Bright Express. For about 100 bucks you can get your teeth bleached and as I read on the Beyond White Spa Web site. For about 2,500 bucks you can get into the business yourself.

Teeth-whitening franchises have run afoul of several state dental boards and in January, the Tennessee Board of Dentistry declared that the kiosk whiteners are practicing dentistry without a license. Joyce Osborn went before the board to argue that teeth-whitening is safe. She's president of the trade group the Council for Cosmetic Teeth Whitening and she joins us from Jasper, Alabama.

It's not just the Tennessee board, Joyce Osborn, the American Dental Association says that these groups are practicing dentistry. Why aren't they?

M: Well, this is true. In fact, I'm the manufacturer of the Bright White teeth whitening system myself. And in doing lots of research, we have made sure that we are not practicing dentistry, that we are providing a self-administered application for whitening the teeth that is safe, affordable and effective.

SIEGEL: Where are the bright lines? I noticed that, often, groups like your company will refer to people as clients, not as patients, for example.

M: Absolutely. We don't cross the boundary lines of trying to portray ourselves as looking like dentists, being a dentist, trying to talk like a dentist. We are strictly offering a product that is labeled cosmetic. We feel that it's not a safety issue. It is strictly a competitive issues.

SIEGEL: I have seen some pictures of some people in one place in Ohio that was televised where the staff appeared to be dressed like dental hygienists at that particular office. No implication here that you're approximating dentistry?

M: Well, a white coat doesn't mean dental. It doesn't mean doctor. It means good hygiene, and that you're practicing good hygiene when you're offering applications or selling products. And it's no more than offering cosmetics in a store where your salesperson would wear a white lab coat.

SIEGEL: Joyce Osborn, President of the Council for Cosmetic Teeth Whitening, thanks a lot for talking with us.

M: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: And now we turn to Nashville and Dr. John Douglass who's a dentist who sits on the Tennessee Board of Dentistry. Hi, Welcome to the program.

D: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: We've heard from Joyce Osborn that she says teeth whiteners are in the cosmetic industry. They're not practicing dentistry. What they're doing is safe and efficacious. What's the problem there?

D: The main problem is the perception that they are doing a dental procedure. We, on the board, feel that it is our responsibility to regulate any procedures that are deemed to be practicing dentistry and this is to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the people of Tennessee. There was a local TV station did an investigative report using hidden cameras and showed that people were actually working in these malls.

Some of them had gloves, some of them didn't, some of them were touching patients, some of them were adjusting the appliances. They contend that they don't, but these newsreels show that indeed they are engaging in the practice of dentistry in by they were touching the patients. Now, the Board of Dentistry says you need to abide by the same rules and regulations that the dentists of Tennessee do.

SIEGEL: Dr. Douglass, does somebody face any risk of any danger to their health by going to a teeth whitener and having this procedure?

D: Now, that I don't know because nobody ever does any health histories on them. You just don't know what you're getting into. What if they have a lot of decay in their mouth? Or they have gum problems? You know, these people should not be receiving the whitening, in my opinion.

If they have a perfectly clean, perfectly fine mouth, the likelihood of anything happening is pretty small. But nobody is looking at the patient to determine what their overall dental health really is. So, yes, they are at risk.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Douglass, thank you very much for talking with us.

D: It is my pleasure, sir.

SIEGEL: That's John Douglass, a dentist who sits on the Tennessee Board of Dentistry. Earlier we heard from Joyce Osborn who's the president of the Council for Cosmetic Teeth Whitening. The Tennessee Board recently ruled that teeth whitening outfits are, in fact, practicing dentistry without a license.

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