By Alex R. Thiersch, JD, Founder/Director of the American Med Spa Association (AmSpa)
Can a dentist or chiropractor own or serve as a medical director for a medical aesthetic practice? Recently I have been asked this on several occasions since, after all, you could make the argument that the certified skills of a dentist or chiropractor might be a good match for a medical spa. However, in most states, the answer to the question is “no,” and it is important to understand why that is the case.
Dentistry, of course, is the branch of medicine that deals with treatment of teeth and the oral cavity. To be a dentist, one must complete a rigorous education with medical components. Although a medical spa owner wouldn’t necessarily immediately think of a dentist for the role of a medical director, it is not an outlandish proposition.
When I am asked about medical directorships by dentists, they often point out that, in course of their practice, they use injectables, such as Botox
, as one would at a medical spa. They feel that this particular expertise might qualify them, under the law, to become a medical director of a medical spa, a position that is typically held by a physician. But an important distinction between dentists and physicians is that the dentists are restricted to performing only the treatments specified in the dental practice act of the state in which they practice.
Within those restrictions, dentists are often permitted to use injectables in and around the oral cavity, so they could conceivably administer these treatments to lips, mouths, and the immediately surrounding areas. However, that is where we recommend it stops, because that is a reasonable interpretation of the area that is connected to the oral cavity.
I have had dentists on many occasions tell me that, in dental school, they learned about full facial anatomy—they make the argument that the cheeks are connected to the mouth, and the neck is part of the mouth, and so forth. In many instances, they have used that justification to expand the treatments they offer beyond the oral cavity and its immediate surroundings. Some have been known to administer forehead Botox, fillers around the nose and cheeks, and other treatments that one would not typically associate with dental practice.
Despite this, all the information AmSpa has received from various dental boards suggests that these regulatory bodies absolutely would not support the idea of a dentist administering Botox to a patient’s forehead, for example, being reasonably related to their practice act. Additionally, being a medical director at a medical spa involves being responsible for all the medical treatments being administered by the practice—not just the ones that involve the mouth and (if we’re being extremely generous) the face. This can include treatments such as laser hair removal and laser skin tightening and rejuvenation to other parts of the body. It is very clear that within his or her scope of practice, a dentist cannot oversee medical treatments such as these.
The bottom line is that we strongly encourage medical spas to look elsewhere for a medical director, although we are sympathetic to dentists’ cause. They simply are not qualified in the eyes of state regulatory bodies.
The story is very similar for chiropractors. Chiropractic generally is regarded as a form of alternative medicine, and it is concerned with the health of the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors treat their patients without the aid of surgery or medicine. This is a somewhat controversial field, as chiropractic’s tangible benefits are difficult to pin down.
Nevertheless, chiropractors’ scopes of practice typically are controlled by their state’s medical practice act. They are often referred to as “doctors,” but they are restricted to administering the treatments that are specified within these practice acts—generally for chiropractors, this means treatments relating to the back, spine, and neck. Chiropractors can, in some cases, use light-emitting devices to treat ailments relating to bones, joints, and musculature, but we at AmSpa feel strongly that such a dispensation does not extend to treatments dealing with aesthetics and the skin.
It is a stretch, at best, to think that a state regulatory agency would rule that many of the treatments offered by a typical medical aesthetic practice fall within a chiropractor’s scope of practice.
Because of the restrictions set forth in the practice acts governing dentists and chiropractors we strongly advise medical aesthetic practices to look elsewhere for medical directors. Most states will not even permit these dentists and chiropractors to have an ownership stake in a medical spa.
Become an AmSpa member to see your state’s legal summary of regulations
governing medical spas and medical aesthetics practices.