SCOTUS: Dentists Can’t Bar Other Businesses From Offering Teeth-Whitening Services

When you want to get your pearly whites professionally polished to their pearliest and whitest, going to the dentist doesn’t have to be the only option, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled today. The justices had looked at a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission against a North Carolina state board dominated by dentists that the agency said had unlawfully excluded non-dentists from teeth-whitening services.

The justices ruled 6-3 that the board acted illegally be excluding competing businesses from offering teeth-whitening services, reports USA Today, the kind you might see in shopping malls, spas and other stores.

The FTC charged the state Board of Dental Examiners with antitrust activities, saying it was acting in the interest of dentists and not customers by doing things like issuing cease and desist letters to non-dentists who were whitening teeth.

Back in 2006, the dental board had warned operators of teeth-whitening kiosks away, saying they were practicing dentistry without a license, the Associated Press reports. Those businesses were pressured into closing, pushing customers to go to higher-priced dentists.

A federal appeals court had agreed that the board had been acting like a group of private practitioners, and not as a state agency. The Supreme Court sided with that court and the FTC, ruling that dentists shouldn’t be keeping customers from finding cheaper ways of whitening their teeth just to make a buck.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion that the FTC was right to conclude that the state regulators also had a financial interest in the market for teeth-whitening, despite that fact that state entitities are usually exempt from federal antitrust laws.

The exemption doesn’t apply here because the board wasn’t actively supervised by the state, notes Reuters, and was instead made up of self-interested private businesses.

He wrote that the exemption “does not authorize the states to abandon markets to the unsupervised control of active market participants.”

Justices: Dentists can’t decide who whitens your teeth [USA Today]
Supreme Court drills dentists in teeth-bleaching dispute [Associated Press]
Supreme Court says state dental board can’t regulate teeth whitening [Reuters]

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