Meet the campaigner who is tackling the illegal tooth whitening trend
It may have once been considered a procedure for the wealthy or simply an accessory for celebrities, but tooth whitening has firmly become the trendy treatment which is quick, accessible and affordable, that has the ability to transform anybody’s smile. Over recent years we have seen a remarkable increase in the number of people looking to brighten up their smile, but it has also opened the door to rogue traders, illegal products and unqualified suppliers. The murky world of illegal tooth whitening is an interesting case and campaigners have been quietly working behind the scenes for years, in an attempt to put a stop to it and protect the general public, who are often unknowingly placing themselves at great risk.
We managed to catch up with Karen Coates, Dental Advisor at the Oral Health Foundation and Lead Co-ordinator of the Tooth Whitening Information Group, to understand more about this new movement and what is being done to combat it.
Q. Hi Karen, thank you putting your busy schedule aside to speak with us. Let’s start off with the very basics. Could you tell us a little bit about what tooth whitening is?
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here. At the most basic level, tooth whitening is a procedure which lightens the natural colour of your teeth without removing any of the tooth surface. Bleaching with hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide is the most usual method of tooth whitening and would involve your dental team putting a rubber shield or a gel on your gums to protect them. They will then apply the whitening product to your teeth, using a specially made tray which fits into your mouth like a mouthguard. As the bleaching agent is broken down, oxygen then gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth colour is made lighter.
Q. So how long does tooth whitening take and how long does it usually last for?
Karen: The entire process can usually be done in around three or four weeks. It begins with two or three visits to the dentist, where impressions will be made of your mouth and teeth for a mouthguard to be specially made. The dental team will then start the treatment, talking you through the process, before you continue the treatment at home. This means regularly applying the whitening product over two to four weeks, for 30 minutes to one hour at a time, although, there are now some new products which can be applied for up to eight hours at a time. This means you can get a satisfactory result in as little as one week.
Q. Does it work?
That depends on what your expectations are. What tooth whitening isn’t going to do is completely change the colour of your teeth, but will simply make them a lighter shade. The benefits of tooth whitening could last up to three years, however, this will vary from person-to-person. The effect is less likely to last as long if you smoke, or eat or drink products that can stain your teeth. Due to its effectiveness, short treatment time and cost, tooth whitening has proven to be an increasingly popular way for people to give their smile a makeover, and is far less invasive or expensive as more heavy cosmetic work like veneers.
Q. Can you give us a little background about the legalities around tooth whitening?
In October 2012, against a backdrop of cases which highlighted a severe risk to the public, the European Council issued a directive which declared tooth whitening an act of dentistry. The ruling clarified that tooth whitening could only be carried out by or under the supervision of a dentist. It also ruled that the supply of tooth whitening products containing more than 0.1% peroxide
could only be to dentists. It was welcomed and supported by several leading dental bodies and has had a substantial impact in the way tooth whitening is now purchased and administered in the UK. However, illegal activity remains a significant problem.
With the increased demand of tooth whitening and the potential profits to be made, many organisations continue sell illegal tooth whitening products and supply tooth whitening services, in full knowledge of the legal changes. Alongside this, it is also clear that there are organisations and individuals offering tooth whitening which remain unaware of the new regulations and are continuing to practice illegally.
Q. Is this why the Tooth Whitening Information Group was formed?
Yes. The public were, and are still, being misled and placed at risk of permanent damage to their teeth. As a result, a group of dental professional bodies and leading manufacturers came together to take action and put an end to harmful, illegal products and unqualified persons carrying out the tooth whitening procedure. When the European Council declared that tooth whitening could only be carried out under by or under the supervision of a dentist and that the supply of tooth whitening products containing more than 0.1%
peroxide could only be to dentists, the announcement was welcomed and supported by a number of leading dental bodies. These groups came together and formed the Tooth Whitening Information Group.
Q. So what is the Tooth Whitening Information Group and what do they do?
The aim of the Tooth Whitening Information Group is to offer the dental profession and members of the public clarity on tooth whitening treatment. Such a lot has happened since the European Council’s directive in 2012 but we still find many people are still unaware of these new legalities. The group has more than a dozen members from a number of dental bodies and manufacturers,
and together our expertise can work in the best interests of the public. We work closely with Trading Standards and the General Dental Council, who are very supportive of the group and have worked with us to make the process of enforcing the law simple and effective. The real issue is that these regulators have many other illegal or potentially dangerous activities to deal with illegal tooth whitening is only one of many things they have to take action on. This is why the group will work to provide evidence and clear reporting of cases to support their work and reduce the burden on their limited resources. We are also supporting them with the group’s knowledge of what is illegal and what isn’t.
Q. Why is such a group needed?
There is still a real lack of awareness about what constitutes legal tooth whitening. Many still believe beauticians and high street kiosks can carry out the treatment, and not enough know they have to visit the dentist. Cheaper alternatives are financially attractive, but they do pose real health risks. The same applies to the profession. There’s an element of uncertainty. It’s our aim to ensure every member of the profession knows the regulations regarding tooth whitening and feels confident in supporting the pubic and reporting any illegal activity they become aware of.
Q. So we cannot have our teeth whitened at beauty kiosk or beauticians?
That’s right. In the UK, Europe and in some other countries, tooth whitening can only legally be carried out by a dentist. This means tooth whitening by beauticians and in whitening kiosks is illegal. In Europe, it is illegal to supply bleaching material containing more than 0.1% peroxide (or the equivalent in carbamide peroxide) to anyone other than a dentist, or direct to the public. These regulations are to protect the public. They make sure that anyone carrying out whitening is professionally qualified to do so. Some beauticians remain unaware of these changes themselves so if you walk passed a salon window and they are offering whitening, please do not be tempted or think that they must be qualified. Always visit the dentist first.
Q. What does the Tooth Whitening Information Group aim to achieve?
Our primary aim is to educate and inform the public on how to achieve safe tooth whitening. We also want to offer clear guidance to the profession on the regulations and offer support to the relevant bodies who will be tackling illegal tooth whitening. We have also set up a website where dental professionals and members of the general public can make the right people aware of illegal tooth whitening. The group also works with those who are unaware they’re offering the treatment illegally to change their products and ensure the patients they are treating are not being put in harm’s way.
Q. Has there been any success stories so far?
Absolutely. We have already put a stop to companies offering discounted illegal tooth whitening treatments. The ease of access to these types of deals was alarmingly easy, and we’ve helped to educate these companies on what is and isn’t legal. There are no grey areas in the regulations now – if people want to get their teeth whitened, they must visit the dentist and have the treatment carried out by a suitably trained dental professional. In the last year alone, there have been more than 40 prosecutions brought before the General Dental Council regarding the illegal practice of tooth whitening. We’re delighted that every single one of these cases have been successful.
Q. That’s fantastic. What’s the punishment if somebody is found guilty?
Convictions for illegal tooth whitening mostly include fines, victim costs and conditional discharges, with the threat of more serious consequences, including jail time, if the defendant
persists with carrying out tooth whitening. Despite tremendous success in supporting regulators to bring unqualified persons to account, we are still extremely concerned about the rogue traders who are becoming wiser as to evade the law and continue to wriggle through the net.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only that there might be many reasons why you might feel that you would like your teeth whitened, but typically it’s seen as a confidence booster – which is absolutely fine. It’s just important to remember that everybody is different, and just as our hair and skin colour vary, so do our teeth. Very few people have pearly-white ‘Hollywood’ teeth, and our teeth can also become more discoloured as we get older, it’s perfectly natural. Your teeth can also be stained on the surface by food and drinks such as tea, coffee, red wine and blackcurrant. Smoking can also stain teeth, as can a build-up of tartar. Bear in mind, a white smile is not necessarily a healthy smile. It’s far more important to care for your teeth correctly and them be a natural colour, rather than being shiny white and neglected.
If you would still like to have your teeth whitened, please go and visit your dental practice. If done correctly, by a qualified dental professional, tooth whitening is not only safe, but can also be extremely effective in brightening your smile. Please don’t be tempted by anybody other than a dentist offering the treatment – your health is far too important. If you would like to learn more about tooth whitening, please visit the Tooth Whitening Information Group website at www.safetoothwhitening.org.
Article Source: British Dental Health Foundation