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The dangers of illegal tooth whitening

  • A blog discussing the dangers of illegal tooth whitening.

    By Naomi Todd

The BBC recently put the spotlight on illegal tooth whitening, with official figures showing the number of illegal teeth whitening procedures in the UK have risen by 26% in the last year.

Tooth whitening, a procedure in which teeth are bleached using a whitening product usually containing hydrogen peroxide, has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in a rise in the number of tooth whitening procedures carried out by unqualified individuals. Given that these individuals are unregulated, there has been a number of issues with the use of overly strong bleach.

Ben Atkins, President of the Oral Health Foundation, advises that tooth whitening products need to contain 6% bleach to whiten teeth, but over the counter treatments only have 0.1% bleach. In contrast, illegal tooth whitening kits contain very high concentration of hydrogen peroxide, some over 44%.

These non-professional treatments can cause significant long term damage including burning and blistering of the gums and lips and permanent tooth and gum damage. As Dr Atkins confirms, “…these are the kind of consequences that last a lifetime, cause unnecessary pain and suffering, and are highly expensive to correct”.

The BBC investigation into illegal tooth whitening procedures has uncovered several companies who are offering training to unknowing beauticians. Incidences recorded include a beautician found to be applying hydrogen peroxide at a strength of 25%. They have also received complaints of 35% hydrogen peroxide being used, which caused excruciating pain, rawness and open sores.

The General Dental Council (GDC), which is an organisation which regulates dental professionals in the UK and promotes public protection, have also recently prosecuted several individuals for carrying out illegal and unsafe tooth whitening procedures. The GDC reported that they had launched 126 prosecutions against illegal teeth whiteners since 2015. These figures are concerning and highlight the scale of the problem, which has been further escalated through the use of social media and ‘TikTok’ trends, where users can create and watch short video snippets.

A recent letter to the Daily Telegraph from dentists warned that the Instagram generation are putting their oral health at risk. Over 1,000 dentists have signed the letter highlighting the risks associated with illegal teeth whitening.

Dr Tony Kilcoyne, a dentist on the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee, who co-ordinated the signatures advised, “Whitening has been increasingly popular for a few years, with Instagram and social media making people like the idea more”.

If you are considering undergoing a tooth whitening procedure, it is extremely important to:

  • Ensure that the individual completing the tooth whitening is a registered dental professional. You can check this on the GDC website, under the “search the registers” function;
  • If you are buying a “home whitening” kit, ensure that the hydrogen peroxide content is under 0.01%. Anything higher than this can cause long-term damage.

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