Whitening: the facts

Lucy Stock, Dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast on why it's important that you get your teeth whitened the right way in order to stay safe

Around one in six now say they have had their teeth whitened and the industry is annually worth an estimated £40m

TOOTH whitening has quickly become an incredibly popular cosmetic procedure for many people looking for a brighter smile. Around one in six now say they have had their teeth whitened and the industry is annually worth an estimated £40m.

In the hands of a fully qualified dental health professional, tooth whitening is an effective and safe procedure which can restore the natural colour of your tooth whiteness of your smile.

Sadly, the growth and popularity of the industry has become an attractive proposition for illegal providers seeking a quick and easy profit.

With this, many unsuspecting people are being put at severe risk from serious and permanent damage to their mouth. The High Court case of GDC v Jamous confirmed that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and can only be legally performed by a dentist, a dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician working to the prescription of a dentist.

If a local beauty parlour or hairdresser is advertising tooth whitening and they are not a dental professional, they are breaking the law.

Ignorance is not an excuse. Many providers may not even be aware they are breaking the law as they have been told by a ‘trainer' (or possibly a person selling the tooth whitening kit) that what they are doing is legal. This is incorrect, and they are still liable.

To improve awareness around the legalities of tooth whitening, the Oral Health Foundation has put together a definitive guide on unscrupulous tooth whitening. The following points will enable everybody to think before letting just anyone at their teeth.

Fines for illegal tooth whitening are unlimited and every case brought against illegal providers has been successful. Illegal providers are putting their livelihood and reputation on the line if they provide these treatments.

In Europe, it's illegal to supply bleaching material containing more than 0.1 peer cent peroxide (or the equivalent in carbamide peroxide) to anyone other than a dentist, or direct to the public. If an illegal provider is offering whitening products stronger than this, you are at serious risk.

It can be dangerous. The laws are in place to prevent serious chemical burns being caused by the peroxide (the substance which whitens teeth). Without the proper procedures in place and used incorrectly these can cause serious and permanent problems to your mouth, lips, gums and tongue leaving you in constant pain.

If you are in any doubt discuss things with your dentist.

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