There aren’t many topics of discussion that make me fill with rage. Normally I can listen to both sides of the debate and enjoy a good, spirited, intellectual conversation about an issue. But “mall whitening” makes me so mad I could punch a kitten in the face.
For those who haven’t heard about this, kiosks and storefronts have popped up in some malls offering tooth whitening services. A customer purchases a bleaching kit, sits in a chair, and an L.E.D. lamp is placed in front of them. The store employees (who are not dentists, hygienists, or dental assistants) do not touch the customer, apply the material, or even position the light. This is how the company is able to dodge claims that the employees are practicing dentistry without a license.
The regulation of this practice is under the purview of individual States, particularly the State Board of Dental Examiners. Two of the more famous battlegrounds have been North Carolina and Alabama, and it hasn’t been pretty. Dentistry seems to be losing this fight because the courts are ruling that we are trying to restrict trade and fair competition.
Well I think we need to change our strategy. I don’t have a problem with businesses selling bleaching kits for at-home use. Any local drug store will have a host of peroxide products that can be used relatively safely by a consumer. That’s not the debate. The problem is that these mall kiosks are deliberately misleading their customers.
The employees wear white coats. There is an L.E.D. light and a dental chair. My problem is that these companies are pretending to offer in-office whitening services when they are actually selling at-home products. This raises a whole host of ethical problems. Customers may be lead to believe that they are receiving a higher quality of care than is actually occurring.
And the price is an absolute rip-off. A typical in-office treatment can run about $500, on average. That’s using 25-38% hydrogen peroxide for about an hour; strong stuff. A typical at-home bleaching can cost the patient about $30 for 10% hydrogen peroxide, which they wear for about 2 weeks (e.g. Crest White Strips). Well, the mall kiosks offer the at-home strength product (10% hydrogen peroxide or 30% carbamide peroxide) pay $99-150. It costs much less then in-office but much more than at-home, even though it’s the same thing as the at-home strength. What is the customer paying for? The illusion that they are receiving a true, in-office treatment. What. A. Scam. Consumer advocates should be up in arms over this.
Why isn’t the public outraged? Because they don’t realize the scam. I hope to lead a new political campaign based on the false advertising that is designed to confuse the public. The employees should not be allowed to wear white coats and scrubs. There should be a warning placed on every store front disclosing that the bleaching agents used are not professional strength and that there is not a dental professional on the premises.
We need to be clear that we are not restricting fair competition. We aren’t greedy dentists trying to stop people from using low concentration, safe, effective products in the comfort of their own homes. And I’m fine with allowing stores to sell these products. But I absolutely will rise to defend the public from charlatans who deceive the public into thinking they are getting professional services.