There are no grey areas when it comes to teeth whitening

Nobody would ever expect a dentist to highlight hair, so just why do some of us seek teeth whitening at a beauty salon? Sadly, there are a number of people who go in search of a fresh, white smile unaware of the strict regulations that govern teeth whitening treatment - and the risks they are taking with their dental health. Many an unwitting person has fallen victim to the illegal teeth whitening businesses that lurk in our high streets and shopping centres, selling their services. With a desire for a sparkly smile, people may make the mistake in believing that, because whitening is a cosmetic treatment, the procedure slots seamlessly into the remit of hairdressers, beauty therapists and so on. But be warned, those pop-up whitening kiosks and beauty salons are all breaking the law in offering this service. The regulations are black and white on teeth whitening - put simply, only a qualified and registered member of the dental profession can carry it out and, anyone else who offers it is practising dentistry illegally. Unqualified and unsafe, they run the risk of not only being prosecuted in the criminal courts, but also doing serious harm to your teeth.

Burnt mouths

There's been a flurry of media coverage of late of news stories in abundance highlighting illegal teeth-whitening incidents that have involved:

  • Burnt mouths and ruined smiles
  • The use of the highly acidic chlorine dioxide teeth whitening gel that can ruin the lustre and surface of teeth
  • The illegal teeth whitening outfits who continue to operate years after facing prosecution
  • The many beauticians who naively sign up to expensive courses and buy equipment in the belief that the unscrupulous traders are legit.

According to the British Dental Association these teeth whitening cowboys are 'running rampant' throughout the UK. At shows and exhibitions, illegal teeth whiteners hand out home whitening kits to unsuspecting customers who reassure them that they can simply take them home and apply. Even Tesco slipped up, having opened its doors to an illegal teeth-whitening service run by the hair and beauty chain, Regis, at 52 of its stores. Following investigations by the General Dental Council (GDC) and trading standards officers - who revealed unqualified staff blatantly breaching the rules - the supermarket chain has since axed them. A glaringly bad bit of publicity perhaps but, more importantly, the story highlights a complete lack of awareness or understanding - even by major retail outlet bosses - of the law, and is indicative of the confusion that seemingly exists surrounding teeth whitening.

Crystal clear

So, instead of gambling with your health, ensure there are no grey areas in your knowledge when it comes to booking your next appointment for teeth whitening. Remember to always consult a dentist before undergoing treatment and reassure yourself they are trained and competent in the procedure. You can check if they are registered with the GDC by visiting and typing in their name and/or GDC registration number, which can be found on all dental practice websites. Debbie McGovern is a dental therapist and chair of the British Association of Dental Therapists. Here, she offers her professional insight into the pitfalls and the proper route to teeth whitening - and the reasons why the dental team is perfectly placed to offer this treatment.

Are you crystal clear on the dos and dont's?

'Whether it's the upcoming summer parties in Ibiza or Marbella, a wedding, a job interview, or low self-esteem, there are so many reasons why we may wish to whiten our teeth and improve our smile. Sometimes, there are clinical reasons why teeth might be darker in colour - such as trauma to the roots with a tooth darkened after the injury, erosion, or the enamel has been removed so the dentine is exposed, which makes the tooth appear yellow. But only a dentist can diagnose this. I have seen some pretty terrible cases involving illegal teeth whitening and get very frustrated because some of the things are avoidable - burnt lips and damaged soft tissues heal but, when enamel is damaged by some of the chemicals that is being put on to teeth, most of the time it is irreversible and the enamel will forever appear dull and without natural lustre. Teeth whitening products that contain citric acid or chlorine dioxide, for example, will soften enamel and affect the look and feel of the tooth.

'So, however tempting it may be, only go to a registered dental professional for teeth whitening because whitening by those who aren't qualified is illegal. Home kits also carry risks. Some don't contain enough of the whitening product to be effective but, more importantly, if the tray provided doesn't fit properly, then the bleaching gel may leak on to gums and into the mouth, which can lead to blisters and sensitivity. Where teeth whitening is carried out in beauty salons by staff without any training or dental qualifications, it not only carries a risk to your oral health, but it's also illegal. The Tooth Whitening Information Group campaigns for safer tooth whitening and was set up to tackle the problem of illegal outfits. There's even a form online to report an illegal tooth whitening product or individual. When you speak to your dentist, make sure you ask lots of questions about the types of whitening treatment you are looking for - and about the results you can expect. You also need to know the risks regarding teeth sensitivity. Take time before making a decision and chat with friends about the teeth whitening treatments they may have had and learn from their experiences until you feel confident. Always ask for a written treatment plan and price estimate before going ahead.'


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