Light at the end of a long tunnel

White light is appearing at the end of a 10-year long tunnel. The European Council has decided that tooth whitening will only be available to patients who have seen a dentist first.

This applies to those products containing less than 6% hydrogen peroxide. Those with more than that remain illegal.

The story goes back to a House of Lords judgement 10 years ago which effectively outlawed the practice. Their lordships ruled tooth whitening agents were cosmetics not ‘medical devices’. As such, it became a criminal offence to supply products with more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide.

Despite the threats of six months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both, more and more people sought and received tooth whitening either in dental practices or in salons on the high street.

The trend was fanned by celebrity culture, including, it is rumoured, Gordon Brown and the Duchess of Cambridge before her wedding.

Earlier this year, the GDC weighed in with the first successful prosecution of the illegal practice and written guidance for patients.

This says: ‘We believe that tooth whitening is part of the practice of dentistry, and dentistry must only be carried out by dental professionals who are registered with us.’

Whoever provided the service, it was illegal under EU law. What is important about the recent decision is that Europe is laying down that tooth whitening is only legal if done by or under the supervision of a dentist.

Trading Standards Officers can now act against the high street salons that are acting illegally, without having to prosecute dental practices as well.

Will it be successful? We must hope so for the patients’ sakes. The procedure is not without risk.

There is a little part of me, however, that wonders. There’s a lot of money in this business and who knows if those prosecuted will appeal that their human rights are being infringed.

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