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Lots of jawing, not much enforcement against ‘unlicensed dentists’

By SCOTT BAUGHMAN, Staff Writer

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The math is coldly convincing.

A person having a teeth-whitening treatment can spend between $300 and $700 at a dentist’s office, or between $100 and $150 with a non-dentist, according to a Federal Trade Commission antitrust complaint filed in opposition to the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners’ cease-and-desist letters sent to about 40 teeth-whitening services.

Ron Haynes, the proprietor of Pro White teeth whitening services in SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, said his service comports with state law and offers consumers a low-cost choice.

But Raleigh attorney A.P. Carlton, who represents the Board of Dental Examiners, said the real choice was between upholding the rule of law and supporting lawbreakers. The FTC chose the latter, he said.

Local district attorneys are rarely confronted with the choice.

“We’ve never had that come up,” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said, referring to prosecuting someone for practicing dentistry without a license. “No one has ever been prosecuted for that by our office.”

Likewise, Johnson County D.A. Susan Doyle said her office had not prosecuted anyone for practicing dentistry without a license.

While some district attorneys have had experience with unlicensed dentists, Carlton said the Board of Dentistry has had fewer than five cases of the complaint in the last 10 years. Officials are more likely to go after fake dentists, those who perform procedures beyond teeth
whitening.

In Gaston County, the D.A.’s office on May 16 will begin the trial of 54-year-old Galo Alejandro Vera-Mendoza. On April 14, Gaston County Police Officer Daniel Caison arrested Vera-Mendoza, who faces four misdemeanor charges: unauthorized practice of dentistry, dispensing medication without a license, failure to hold a license to practice an industry and obtaining prescription medication by fraud.

According to Caison’s report, Vera-Mendoza ordered and received Lidocaine, a numbing gel commonly used in dental procedures, according to mayoclinic.com.

In 2005, Brandi Temple of Davidson County was charged with practicing without a license, but charges were dropped after she gave Assistant District Attorney Charles Kinsey III a sworn affidavit promising to no longer engage in teeth whitening as part of her business at The Temple spa.

In the affidavit obtained by Lawyers Weekly, Temple specifically promised not to make impressions of human teeth, gums or jaws.

Two key parts that change the whitening process from simple over-the-counter kits to activities legally defined as dentistry include preparing a tray of compounds for a patient and making those impressions.

“If they’re making impressions and custom molds of someone’s mouth without the supervision of a dentist, that might be in conflict with some of the state’s regulations,” said Dr. Ralph Mello, a dentist in East Charlotte. “The board is pretty conservative, and they know what the law is, but someone will always try to challenge the norm.”

While some dentists’ offices are making money from teeth whitening, Mello says the kiosk vendors don’t bother him.

“From my personal standpoint, that service doesn’t infringe on what I’m doing for my patients,” Mello said. “If people want to offer that teeth whitening service, they can, and I guess they’ll have to work that out between themselves and the board.”


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