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The colour of your smile is under scrutiny, from other people, the media and even your own reflection in the mirror. Tooth whitening procedures are more popular than ever, and all over the country, every day, members of the public purchase a tooth whitening procedure to enhance the colour of their teeth.
On the internet, daily deal websites, social media and on the high street there are many methods that can be used to achieve whiter teeth, from home kits, to office whitening and even laser whitening. These can be accessed from dental practices, beauty salons/spas and so called mobile “teeth whitening technicians”. However, it is only dental professionals who are registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) who are legally permitted to carry out tooth whitening procedures.
There is widespread confusion from the general public with regards to who can carry out tooth whitening legally, and unsurprisingly there a few people outside of the dental profession who are aware that it is illegal for non-GDC registrants to carry out such procedures. Failure to comply with this law, could lead to prosecution under the Dentist Act 1984, which states “it is a criminal offence for anyone other than a registered dental professional to carry out dentistry.”
To clarify, EU Council Directive 2011/84/EU states that only a dental professional can legally use products releasing between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide, whilst anything under 0.1% is considered cosmetic. Many beauticians believe they are observing EU law because they use products releasing less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, or even non-peroxide products. However the GDC have successfully prosecuted several beauticians, most notably Lorna Jamous whose case went through a High Court Ruling. This case confirmed that tooth whitening is definitively an act of dentistry, even when using products that are non-peroxide or release under 0.1% hydrogen peroxide.
Sadly many beauticians are mis-sold courses by companies, who quote out of date laws regarding the practice of tooth whitening and are therefore ignorant to their illegal practice. In addition they are also sold umbrella insurance policies which include indemnity cover. However if a claim was to arise, the policy would be deemed null and void, as it would not cover any illegal practice.
It is therefore important that members of the public seeking tooth whitening arrange a dental examination by a dentist, with alternative treatments discussed and a fully valid consent obtained, including the risks of proposed treatment.
Treatment can also be carried out by an appropriately trained dental hygienist or dental therapist working under the prescription of the examining dentist, who can of course also perform the treatment, if it is clinically considered appropriate.
The risks associated with any tooth whitening procedure, can be overlooked by patients. These include soft and hard tissue trauma, namely burns and erosion, ingestion of bleaching products through mal-fitting trays, and the use of products that do not conform to EU regulations relating to the maximum concentration of hydrogen peroxide. By having treatment with an appropriately qualified and registered dental professional will reduce these risks significantly, and if any side effects were to arise, such professionals would have the sufficient knowledge to treat and advise for any problems. Greater awareness of illegal practice of tooth whitening among the public and patients is required.
The other side to illegal tooth whitening is regarding the Health Technical Memorandum 01-05 (HTM 01-05). All dental professionals and dental practices by law adhere to the above regulation, to provide a safe and clean environment in which all reusable instruments are appropriately decontaminated. The use of an illegal tooth whitening provider, exposes the patient to person-to-person transmission of infection, as these illegal providers do not have to comply with such regulations.
Members of the public are encouraged to report illegal practice to the GDC or to a local Trading Standards office, who will investigate the case further.
Anyone thinking of having their teeth whitened is encouraged to check the registration of their preferred professional at www.gdc-uk.org whilst further advice can be sought from safetoothwhitening.org.
This article has been submitted by Dr Georgia Clarke with input from Louise Clark.
Dr Georgia Clarke graduated in Dentistry at Newcastle University in 2011 and commenced her Vocational Training in Winchmore Hill, London, under the UCL Eastman Scheme. Upon completion, the practice offered Georgia an associate position and she was also offered a position in Buckhurst Hill. She splits her time between the two busy and diverse NHS/private practices. Georgia is passionate about general practice including the regulation of the dental and facial aesthetics industries.
Louise Clark began her career in dentistry in 2003 as a trainee dental nurse, she later assisted with implants and aesthetic procedures. Louise has continued to expand her skills by completing a Diploma in Dental Hygiene and currently works at 38 Devonshire Street where her passion is a preventative approach to dentistry.