Dangers of unsafe, illegal tooth whitening highlighted

Only registered dental professionals can legally offer tooth whitening treatment using hydrogen peroxide above 0.1%
Only registered dental professionals can legally offer tooth whitening treatment using hydrogen peroxide above 0.1%

One in four people (28%) would rather purchase potentially unsafe home kits over the internet or visit illegal beauticians and kiosks than see their dentist for tooth whitening treatment, according to research.

In light of the increasing trend for teeth whitening procedures in the UK, the Oral Health Foundation wants to highlight the serious risks that people are taking by opting for illegal and unsafe whitening treatment.

With the tooth whitening industry fast becoming one of the major growth industries in cosmetic and dental procedures, the charity is alerting the public to the potentially life-changing health risks unscrupulous traders are exposing them to.

Unsafe, illegal tooth whitening can lead to severe chemical burns that can leave permanent scarring, tooth loss and, in extreme cases, affect the ability to eat and breath.

Karen Coates, dental adviser at the Oral Health Foundation and coordinator of the Tooth Whitening Information Group (TWIG), spoke about the dangers unaware consumers are facing.

Mrs Coates said: ‘Twenty million people in the UK are leaving themselves open to illegal and unsafe tooth whitening, severely harming their health. They may not be aware of the dangers associated with the procedures and that is only perpetuating the belief that they are fine to go ahead with.

‘There are an increasing amount of stories in the press about procedures causing huge problems for unaware consumers. I recently read about a woman who suffered from third degree burns due to an illegal whitening procedure, this could leave her with permanent scarring.

‘This is precisely the type of risk that consumers are being exposed to by opting not to get their teeth whitening done by a professional. We are calling on the public to make sure they are aware of the potentially life-changing dangers they face through illegal tooth whitening.’

Under a European Council directive, tooth whitening products containing or releasing above 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can only be sold to a registered dental professional offering the treatment in their practice.

Tooth whitening can only be provided after a dentist has first examined the patient to make sure there are no risks or any other concern about their oral condition. In addition, the patient must be over the age of 18 and the first use must be from a dental practitioner or under their direct supervision by a dental hygienist or dental therapist.

Anybody who is not a registered dental professional and is offering tooth whitening treatment using hydrogen peroxide above 0.1% is breaking the law and liable for prosecution. Every single case raised by the General Dental Council (GDC) since the rules came into force has resulted in a successful prosecution.

CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, added: ‘Much of this problem comes from the people carrying out the tooth whitening procedures not being aware that it is illegal. Many undergo a brief “training period” with an unscrupulous company and then believe they are qualified to carry out the treatment, but this is wrong and can be hugely dangerous to consumers with the providers facing the severe legal consequences.

‘Ignorance in this case in not a valid excuse, by carrying out these treatments they are breaking the law and will be forced to face the penalties. Fines for carrying our illegal tooth whitening are unlimited so it can have serious financial and professional implications.

‘The cases where illegal and unsafe tooth whitening is leading to serious damage are increasing. There is no reason to put your health at peril and risk permanent and severe damage in order to emulate the fake smiles you see on TV.

‘There are a number of reasons why you might get your teeth whitened. Everyone is different; and just as our hair and skin colour vary, so do our teeth. Very few people have brilliant-white teeth, and our teeth can also become more discoloured as we get older. If you choose to have teeth whitening, make sure you have it done in safe way by a qualified dental professional.’

The Tooth Whitening Information Group (TWIG) is working towards a safe and effective tooth whitening solution in the best interests of the public, all to make tooth whitening as safe as possible for the public.

If you feel that you know of an illegal tooth whitening provider or have had treatment that was carried out by someone who is not a registered dental professional, then you should report it to TWIG here.

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