Mayor warns of dangers of illegal tooth whitening services

Editorial image
Editorial image

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council is warning of the dangers of illegal tooth whitening products and services.

A shocking video has been produced by the Department for the Economy Trading Standards Service for Northern Ireland and the Environmental Health Departments of Northern Ireland’s 11 district councils with support from the General Dental Council (GDC), to highlight the risks of tooth whitening products and services and advises people to protect their smile by speaking to their dentist before getting their teeth whitened.

Tooth whitening is now one of the most popular cosmetic treatments in the UK with products available widely through retailers or online.

The practice involves bleaching the teeth using a whitening product usually containing hydrogen peroxide.

Whilst whitening is perfectly safe if carried out by a registered dental professional, an untrained person could cause permanent damage to teeth and gums and the law is clear that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry.

This means that it is a criminal offence for anyone other than a registered dentist, or dental hygienist, dental therapist or clinical dental technician acting to the prescription of a dentist, to offer or provide it.

Criminal prosecutions for the illegal practice of dentistry can carry significant fines because of the risk these treatments pose to members of the public.

One of the most common injuries happens when the mouth-guard containing the bleaching gel (peroxide) does not fit properly and some of it leaks causing painful chemical burns to the mouth, lips, gums and tongue. In extreme cases people have been sick after swallowing the bleaching product.

Mayor Ald. Maureen Morrow commented: “Tooth whitening carried out by anyone who isn’t registered with the GDC (General Dental Council) is illegal, and I would urge anyone who is thinking of getting their teeth whitened – please do your research. Your teeth are too important to risk causing irreparable damage to your mouth and gums.

“Some services and products promise up to 15 shades whiter, so you have to ask yourself: what chemicals are they using to get those results? It may not work and could leave you in constant pain with incredibly sensitive teeth when eating or drinking.”

Charlene Conlon, Trading Standards Inspector said: We would encourage anyone thinking of having their teeth whitened to watch this hard-hitting video to help them better understand the dangers associated with illegal tooth whitening.

“Promises of fast results and a brighter smile may seem enticing but the dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide contained in illegal tooth whitening kits may put an individual’s health at risk.

“The Trading Standards Service is also warning unlicensed practitioners, including beauty salons, that they may face prosecution if they act unlawfully.”

Richard Graham, the British Dental Association’s Chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, commented: “There are strict laws on who can legally carry out tooth whitening and for good reason as this video shows. If you put yourself in the hands of unqualified people with unknown chemicals, you are gambling with your health.

“As people have found to their cost, illegal and untrained operators can permanently damage teeth and gums and can’t provide help if something goes wrong. For safe, effective whitening, visit your dentist.”

While only dental professionals can provide a tooth-whitening service, it is perfectly legal for anyone to treat themselves with an over-the-counter kit, provided it contains less than 0.1 per cent hydrogen peroxide.

However according to the General Dental Council, dentists are trained to know what whitening products will be safe for your teeth and gums, whilst products provided by non-dentists often do not have enough safety data and evidence to support their use; this can result in burned gums and/or blistered lips or even more serious consequences.

The GDC also states that the products available to buy online or from High Street shops often fail to declare the precise chemicals used so it is very difficult to assess their safety.

To check that your dental professional is properly registered, please visit the General Dental Council’s website to check the GDC’s registers of dental professionals at www.gdc-uk.org.