June 10th, 2014
08:59 AM ET

Why we should care about teeth whitening

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

All eyes will be on the U.S. Supreme Court this month as it issues its final decisions before recessing for the summer. When it comes back in session (on the first Monday of October), it will likely hear a critical case. But the case is not about money in politics or affirmative action or the powers of the presidency – it's about whether you can get your teeth whitened at a kiosk in the mall.

What in the world?

You see, teeth whitening services have been in high demand since 1989. And, as with any billion-dollar business, people are keen to capitalize on the trend. In 2003, non-dentists in North Carolina started to provide peroxide whitening at significantly lower prices than dentists.

Not surprisingly, the dentists started complaining.

In this case, North Carolina's doctors of dentistry complained to the state's Board of Dental Examiners, the agency that regulates dentistry in the state. The Board, in response, issued dozens of cease and desist letters to non-licensed whiteners in salons and malls. But, in 2010, the Federal Trade Commission found that the Board, which consisted mostly of dentists, was trying to quash competition and had violated anti-trust laws.

This legal battle is not just about teeth whitening, as you might have guessed – the ruling will have far-reaching implications for all of us.

But first, let us explain why the case says a lot about the US economy.

In the last 60 years, America has seen an explosion in licensing.  In the 1950's only 5 percent of the workers of America were licensed.  Today almost one-third of the work force has to be licensed. From fortune tellers to shampooers to florists, many states require a certification before you can practice your "profession."

And that large rise in credentials has caused a rise in costs for us consumers. According to a paper in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, occupational licensing can raise wages by as much as 18 percent.  And, those higher wages get passed on, of course, to the consumer

More than 800 professions now have to be licensed at the state level, joining what was select a group such as lawyers and doctors. Morris Kleiner, a University of Minnesota Professor, makes a compelling argument for the increasing absurdity of mass occupational licensing. He points out that in Minnesota, to become a cosmetologist you have to put in more school time than to become a lawyer. Manicurists in Kleiner's state put in double the class hours as paramedics do.

And it's not just the North Star State.

In Texas you need to rack up 300 hours of coursework just to work in the wig trade. We are sure wig making is a fine art, but regulations like this are ludicrous and hurt the working poor the most. Let anyone who thinks they can arrange a bouquet set up shop as a florist, please. And let the market decide if they're any good, not some absurd board of accreditation, mostly made up of florists.

In late May, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor decided to take on beauty salon licenses. Cantor urged governors across the country to reform licensing practices, which he argued create barriers for low-income workers.  That's a start.

Of course there should be safeguards and regulations, but for the most part these certificates are simply a way for groups to restrict the number of people entering their fields – in other words to keep out competition. And state governments coddle these special interest groups because it's a way to raise money and get votes.

But it is a serious barrier to workers who are new, young, poor or simply unconventional. And it is a serious problem for the American economy, hampering growth and burdening the system with nonsensical rules and regulations.

Republicans and Democrats seem to have found some common ground on this issue. So maybe we can't get bipartisan reform of immigration or taxes or energy policy, but we might get it on wig licensing.

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. palintwit

    Teeth whitening and tea party patriots. Just like oil and water.

    June 10, 2014 at 9:04 am | Reply
    • Didn't

      Didn't you mean "tooth" whitening?

      June 10, 2014 at 10:02 am | Reply
      • palintwit

        I stand corrected !

        June 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Naw, @ Didn't.
        One very white tooth is not convincing.

        June 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
    • kapildas280

      It is always good to have a set of pearl white teeth as it is rightly said that smile makes great impact on people. I had my teeth whitening done from Dentzz you can read my review at http://yellowpages.sulekha.com/mumbai/dentzz-bandra-west-mumbai_contact-address

      May 7, 2015 at 5:38 am | Reply
  2. chri§§y

    Another example of government getting involved in things they shouldnt and ignoring the things they should be involved in! Should ask Mr. Cantor why he felt it was more important for salon owners to be regulated and why he shouldnt be working on imigration reform! What a putz!

    June 10, 2014 at 10:12 am | Reply
  3. marc

    He's talking about deregulating...it's the boards and licenses that are the government making regulations

    June 10, 2014 at 10:24 am | Reply
  4. chri§§y

    Thanks @ marc...i totally read that wrong! Lol. And they need to de-regulate alot more things as well. Dont know if youve noticed but since the government got involved with analog television, cable prices have gone thru the roof!

    June 10, 2014 at 10:42 am | Reply
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©


    June 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    What dentists should explain to patients is trismus. I may be spelling it incorrectly, but there's no English dictionary here.
    Anybody can whiten teeth at home, so how dangerous could it be to use the good stuff that makes everybody believe you're still eighteen years old?

    June 10, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Reply
    • banasy©


      June 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ banasy, yes, but that word is ever so frightful, is it not?
        Far better not to know what might happen when your dentist sticks a hypodermic needle into your gum.

        June 10, 2014 at 8:54 pm |
      • banasy©

        Thankfully, I haven't had a cavity in decades.
        I have always found the other causes of trismus to be much more frightening; Old Yeller and Cujo come to mind.

        June 11, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • rupert

      Banasy doesn't have to worry about finding a liscensed whitening worker. She just has yellow teeth and is ok with it like palintwit.
      It's not that they aren't vain. They are. It's that they don't think good hygiene is important. That's all.

      June 11, 2014 at 7:01 am | Reply
      • banasy©

        C 9

        June 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm |
  7. bobcat2u

    A patient came to his dentist with problems with his teeth. Patient: Doctor, I have yellow teeth, what do I do? Dentist: Wear a brown tie!

    June 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Reply
    • dazzle

      @bobcat, another good laugh.

      June 10, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Reply
      • rupert

        How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
        One. But it takes nine visits.

        June 11, 2014 at 7:38 am |
  8. bobcat2u

    A man went to his dentist because he feels something wrong in his mouth. The dentist examines him and says, "that new upper plate I put in for you six months ago is eroding. What have you been eating?" The man replies, "all I can think of is that about four months ago my wife made some asparagus and put some stuff on it that was delicious ... Hollandaise sauce. I loved it so much I now put it on everything - meat, toast, fish, vegetables, everything." "Well," says the dentist, "that's probably the problem. Hollandaise sauce is made with lots of lemon juice, which is highly corrosive. It's eaten away your upper plate. I'll make you a new plate, and this time use chrome." "Why chrome?" asks the patient. To which the dentist replies, "It's simple. Everyone knows that ... there's no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise!"

    June 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  9. AnnJo

    Over-licensing cartel of the funeral industry: 2013 – "The US Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal from the state of Louisiana means it's now the law: You don't have to have a funeral directors license to sell coffins in the Bayou state. It's a little bittersweet; we were used to watching the state's undertaker's regulatory board playing Don Quixote for years against a group of monks who wanted only to build and sell wood coffins." via funerals.org

    June 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      I'm on the monks' side, I think–but do the monks' sales bring any tax revenues to Louisiana schools and bayou bridges?

      June 10, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  10. ellie

    I disagree with this premise. The teeth whitening thing is silly, of course, but I don't really care. You can buy the stuff at the local supermarket if you think having super white teeth is so important. But I do believe most of these industries do need to be regulated. Most of these trades take some training and to suggest that they do not is to minimize them. Okay, a floral shop is no big deal. If you like the arrangement, buy it, but personal services are different. I want someone who knows how to cut hair. Some are more talented than others, but it is a learned skill. I want a massage therapist who knows the muscles in my body and has training. I want an auto mechanic who knows about cars in great detail. There are many skills which need to be learned. So let's be reasonable about it.

    June 11, 2014 at 2:04 am | Reply
  11. rupert

    I know Ellie. Right? It is dumb to require a florist or a wig worker to have a liscense. But I think it's ok to require a liscense for teeth whitening workers just to play it safe. After all we are born with only 32 teeth and want to hang on to them as long as possible. Look at me, I'm 90 years old and still have 33 teeth.

    June 11, 2014 at 7:14 am | Reply
  12. rupert

    @Ellie. So when was the last time u got laid?
    FYI, I'm a good layer.

    June 11, 2014 at 7:19 am | Reply
  13. rupert

    Banasy and palinwit both have dem entia

    June 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Rupert seems to suffer from DVBPD #N.
      There is no cure.

      June 11, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  14. chri§§y

    Lol @ banasy ok and wth is that? And what is C9?

    June 11, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Reply
  15. denturist

    Gary W. Vollan L.D. State Coordinator, Wyoming State Denturist Association,

    June 11, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  16. CrestBG

    The best teeth whitening is with Crest Whitestrips http://www.whitestrips.bg

    June 19, 2014 at 6:48 am | Reply
  17. Bill Johnson

    Personally, I don't care much about the dentists. They are just complaining because they have competition. Maybe they should lower they fees to be competitive. What the government must do is regulate and check if the non-dentist whitening services are really capable of such service. If not, then they should be shut down. There is nothing bad with a healthy and fair competition. I don't like monopolization.

    July 8, 2014 at 6:01 am | Reply
  18. henry william

    Well said about teeth whitening . Everybody should be concerned about their presentation

    December 30, 2014 at 4:30 am | Reply
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