Illegal Tooth Whitening Crackdown by Government and Dentists

Lorna Jackson
By Lorna Jackson

Lorna was Editor of Consulting Room (, the UK's largest aesthetic information website, from 2003 to 2021.

Writing today on parliamentary correspondent Anika Bourley noted that the Government and Trading Standards must step up and deal with the illegal practice of teeth whitening following a new European Directive.

The EU Directive on teeth whitening products was implemented in the UK on 31st October 2012. This legislative change means that tooth whitening products containing or releasing between 0.1 and 6% hydrogen peroxide can now ONLY be sold to dental practitioners and that the first use of each cycle of the product must be completed by a dentist as a clinical examination, after which use may be continued by the patient. (Use of these products by people under 18 years of age is not permitted, even under supervision of a dentist.)

Additionally, all tooth-whitening products with hydrogen peroxide levels higher than 6% are now banned and only tooth-whitening products with less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide may be sold over the counter to the public.

However, it is feared by dental regulators such as the British Dental Association (BDA) and the General Dental Council (GDC) that the emphasis of the regulation will focus on where non-dentists are obtaining the products, rather than the fact they are being used and compromising patient safety.

Dr Stuart Johnston, a member of the BDA’s principal executive committee, and chair of the Council of European Dentists’ Working Group on Whitening Products speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dentistry also warned there were variations on how Trading Standards officers across the country interpret the Dental Act.

He noted; “The transposition of the European Directive into UK law makes possible a new era of patient safety in tooth whitening. We must now make that possibility a reality. Dentists must be diligent in reporting any non-dentists performing whitening, and Trading Standards and the GDC must put safety first and take action to protect the public.”

“What we have to try to do is raise the profile of tooth whitening higher up their (Trading Standards) ladder so it is an area they act on. There are some big players out there and, if we could get action against some of those, the example would be set and it would be much easier to deal with the smaller players then as they will see businesses ceasing.”

“We will continue to work with the department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to try to get a solution. We want BIS to try to co-ordinate or lead with Trading Standards to get a uniform implementation”; he concluded.

Dr Johnston also said the action was needed to tackle supplies being sold online through Amazon and eBay as the companies would become liable as the provider and the Internet was the only place products would now be available to non-dentists.

The GDC fears that while the change should signal an end to non-dentists providing tooth whitening treatments, the illegal practices on the high street will continue. This fear was backed up by comments from Dr Johnston who said; “often whitening by non-dentists is also performed using dangerous chemicals such as chlorine dioxide and sodium perborate which can result in severely burnt gums. It is time to put an end to unsafe, illegal whitening." Greg Stafford, from the GDC, said that while it takes the issue seriously and will prosecute, it is “hampered by a lack of powers”.

“We do not have powers to enter a property to see if the practice is going on, we can do it when they pop up in shopping centres but behind closed doors it is very difficult to prove. We need evidence of patient harm;” he said.

Although non-dentists can be fined £5,000 for carrying out tooth whitening, it is felt that this is a derisive amount which could be quickly recovered by an unscrupulous person through the practice of more illegal teeth whitening on the public.

The GDC is currently unable to successfully prosecute via any additional laws, other than the Dental Act which covers illegal practice, as the process of proving that someone was practising tooth whitening whilst knowing they could cause damage and harm is difficult.

The British Dental Trade Association is calling on the beauty industry to ensure its members, and training course providers leave teeth whitening to those who can provide it both legally and safely...dentists.

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