Dangers Lurk in the Illegal Tooth Whitening Market



Instead of going to their dentist, 28% of people in the United Kingdom said that they would prefer to use home tooth whitening kits they purchased over the Internet or go to illegal beauticians and kiosks instead, according to the Oral Health Foundation.

However, the organization warns, unsanctioned whitening products and practices could cause chemical burns, permanent scarring, tooth loss, and, in some extreme cases, the ability to eat and breathe.

“There are an increasing amount of stories in the press about procedures causing huge problems for unaware consumers,” said Karen Coates, dental advisor with the Oral Health Foundation and coordinator of the Tooth Whitening Information Group.

Under a European Council directive, tooth whitening products that contain or release more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide only can be sold to registered dental professionals offering the treatment in their practice.

Also under these rules, teeth only can be whitened after the dentist has examined the patient to ensure there are no risks or other concerns about oral health. Patients must be 18 years of age or older. And, the first treatment must be from a dental practitioner or under the direct supervision of a dental hygienist or dental therapist.

People who perform whitening with products that contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide even though they are not registered dental professionals are breaking the law and liable for prosecution. Every single case the General Dental Council (GDC) has raised has resulted in a successful prosecution, and the fines are unlimited.

Just last month, the GDC prosecuted 2 people for tooth whitening offenses. Nicole Fenwick pleaded guilty to unlawfully practicing dentistry and unlawfully using a protected title, while John Spink pleaded guilty to carrying out tooth whitening while unregistered.

Fenwick was ordered to pay a £20 (about $26) victim surcharge and the GDC’s costs of £800 (about $1,046). Spink had to pay £1,500 (about $1,961) of the GDC’s costs. Both were sentenced to 12-month conditional discharges. These cases follow 4 other successful prosecutions between May and July this year.

“These individuals are flouting the law by offering tooth whitening while not on the register of dental professionals, and neither has the skills, training, or qualifications to be offering such services safely,” said Francesca Keen, head of illegal practice at the GDC.

“Much of this problem comes from the people carrying out the tooth whitening procedures not being aware that it is illegal,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.

“Many undergo a brief ‘training period’ with an unscrupulous company and then believe they are qualified to carry out the treatment,” Carter said. “But this is wrong and can be hugely dangerous to consumers, with the providers facing the severe legal consequences.”

The Tooth Whitening Information Group urges people who know of an illegal tooth whitening provider or who have had treatment carried out by someone who is not a registered dental professional to report the situation at the group’s website, safetoothwhitening.org. Also, the GDC provides a list of registered dental professionals at its site, gdc-uk.org.

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