5 On Your Side

Teeth whitening kiosks at the mall are not regulated

Posted May 21, 2008 5:10 p.m. EDT
Updated September 6, 2013 4:37 a.m. EDT

— New dental whitening kiosks are popping up at shopping malls. While they promise to whiten teeth for just $99, 5 on Your Side has found that the stands are not regulated.

A sign in front of the BleachBright stand at Crabtree Valley Mall advertises the treatment that uses a "patented blue light" to give the consumer whiter teeth in just 15 minutes. For Brian Runsick, the outcome was more complicated.

“My gums were so sensitive that I couldn't brush my teeth whatsoever. The bottom teeth, the gums bled uncontrollably. I could hardly eat anything but mush,” Runsick said.

Runsick had his teeth whitened at a BleachBright kiosk in Crabtree Valley Mall.

“I'd been thinking about doing it at the dental office, but the cost was $300 to $500. This was $99,” Runsick said.

With employees dressed in uniform-like “scrubs,” Runsick assumed they were dental professionals and sat down for treatment. Everything was fine until about five days later when, while on a cruise, his gums became sore.

Runsick sought relief from a dentist in Mexico. He needed antibiotics. He eventually complained to North Carolina's Board of Dental Examiners.

Board leaders told WRAL that the way they see it BleachBright and similar businesses practice dentistry without a license. State law says anyone who "removes stains" from teeth is practicing dentistry.

The board filed law suits against two similar businesses and sent a "cease and desist" letter telling BleachBright to stop operations, but it's still open. The next step for the Board would be a lawsuit.

BleachBright Owner Joe Willett told WRAL he believes some dentists simply don't want him taking their business. He contends he is not practicing dentistry because the entire process is "self-administered."

Five on Your Side sent WRAL employees with a hidden camera to see the process. During the visit, the BleachBright employee was clear; she does not actually do the whitening. The employee instructed the WRAL employee on the process, which has the consumer place the tray filled with whitening solution in their mouth. The BleachBright employee just adjusts the light to hit the teeth. The consumer pulls out the tray and throws it away.

With consumers doing the actual process, these businesses say they are operating within the law.

“If they actually put the tray into the person's mouth, it would be considered a dental procedure, so I think they're trying to get around that by doing that,” said Dr. Rebecca King, head of the state’s Division of Oral Health

King wants consumers to understand, no government agency oversees these teeth whitening businesses.

“These are not regulated and I think the bottom line is buyer beware,” King said.

North Carolina's Dental Society wants regulation.

“It's not quite as easy as just paint the solution on there, turn the light on, wait a little while and then everything is gonna be okay,” said Dr. Alec Parker, director of the society.

Parker has several concerns about the kiosks: the risk of infection since there is no running water to wash hands and equipment, that employees don't have appropriate training and finally, their inability to provide follow-up care if there's a problem.

Willett said he has many satisfied customers. WRAL spoke with one on Tuesday, who loved the results and had no problems.