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Ask the Dentist: Using cheap teeth-whitening services and products could cost you dear

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, warns about the potential pitfalls of non-professional teeth whitening

Make sure you use professional dental services and products if you are considering having your teeth whitened
Lucy Stock

HANDS up who wants to blow some money on whitening gel that either has no effect or damages your teeth. No takers?

Apparently, you would be better to throw £50 out the window than buy cheap teeth-whitening products on the internet, according to research from Manchester University.

Researchers found three of the products tested had an active ingredient of sodium chlorite, which they said reduced the hardness of teeth when acid was present. Other products had the same whitening effect as swilling water – none.

"Not all bleaching products are the same and not all bleaching products are safe," study lead author Dr Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, from the University of Manchester Dental School, said.

Enamel does not like being bathed in acid. The surface of enamel is in a constant state of flux, with substances moving in and out of it all the time, like passengers moving on and off a train. If your saliva is too acidic, too many salts – or passengers – will move out and the enamel will start to thin. Leaving the tooth without its outer armour layer makes it feel sensitive and more likely to decay.

In severe cases of enamel erosion damage, the teeth will look yellow; opposite to the sparkling white that was the intended end point. To fix dissolved teeth takes skill and time and can incur substantial costs, so trying to save a buck could backfire in the long run.

In 2014 the General Dental Council received 1,424 complaints about illegal tooth whitening. Complaints from the public and dental professionals about tooth whitening focus on the risk to patient safety from poor quality tooth whitening being carried out by untrained or poorly trained staff.

Last year a former reality TV star was fined £11,000 at Liverpool Magistrates Court after being found guilty of offering illegal tooth whitening.

Under the Dentists Act 1984, and following a High Court ruling, the legal position in relation to tooth whitening is very clear: the treatment can only be performed by a dentist or a dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician working to the prescription of a dentist.

Legal tooth whitening from a dental practice can cost around £150, which is not ridiculous when you consider the potential downsides of going down the illegal route. The dental team will give you professional, tailored advice about bleaching your teeth to ensure you get whiter teeth as well as keeping them healthy.

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