Connecticut Teeth Whitening

What is the difference between whitening your teeth at home with a product you buy online and whitening your teeth at a shopping mall or salon with an identical product bought there? The person who sold you the product at the mall or salon can be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Teeth-whitening services are popular and increasingly available at spas, salons and shopping malls. Sensational Smiles LLC (d/b/a Smile Bright), founded by Connecticut entrepreneurs Tasos Kariofyllis and Steve Barraco is a typical example. Operating in shopping malls and salons, Smile Bright sold an over-the-counter whitening product and provided a clean, comfortable place for customers to apply the product to their own teeth, just as they would at home. But a recent ruling by the Connecticut Dental Commission has made it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail for anyone but a licensed dentist to offer the type of teeth-whitening services Smile Bright offered. Unwilling to risk thousands of dollars in fines and years in prison, Tasos and Steve shut down their profitable business.

There is no health or safety reason to make it illegal for anyone other than a dentist to offer teeth-whitening services. In fact, teeth-whitening products are regulated by the FDA as cosmetics, which means anyone—even a child—can purchase them and apply them to their own teeth without a prescription and without supervision or instruction.

The real explanation for Connecticut’s new restrictions on teeth-whitening services is old-fashioned special-interest politics. Dentists routinely charge four times more than non-dentists for teeth-whitening services similar to those Lisa offered. Rather than try to compete by lowering prices or improving their services, the dental cartel is using government power to put their competition out of business.

The U.S. Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable regulations designed solely to benefit special interests. That’s why on November 16, 2011, the Institute for Justice teamed up with Tasos and Steve to file a federal constitutional lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut to vindicate their right to earn an honest living.

After IJ filed suit, the Connecticut State Dental Commission largely backed down, preserving only a single restriction that applied to teeth whiteners like Smile Bright. The Commission took the position that although teeth whiteners could make LED teeth-whitening lights available for their customers to use, they could not physically position those lights in front of their customers’ mouths. Violating this rule could lead to five years in jail and $25,000 in fines per customer.

Unfortunately, the trial court held that this restriction was constitutional and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that the restriction was constitutional even if its only purpose was to insulate licensed dentists from honest competition. Even though this decision deepened an existing circuit split on whether economic protectionism is a legitimate use of government power, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review on February 29, 2016.

Learn more about this Institute for Justice case by clicking here.

Photo: Institute for Justice