Tooth whitening FAQs

Tooth whitening FAQs

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  • I have an appointment booked to get my teeth whitened, but I’ve heard that they aren’t trained. Can you tell me whether they are allowed to perform tooth whitening?

    Only registered dentists, dental therapists, dental hygienists and clinical dental technicians, working to the prescription of a dentist, can perform tooth whitening. You can check to see whether someone is registered by going clicking here. If the person performing the tooth whitening cannot be found on one of the GDC registers they are not legally allowed to practice tooth whitening and it would be unlawful for them to whiten your teeth.

  • I’ve seen a leaflet advertising tooth whitening at my local hairdresser’s. It says that the staff are insured; if that’s the case then it must be legal?

    False. The fact that somebody who offers tooth whitening states that they have valid insurance or indemnity does not indicate that the tooth whitening procedure itself is legal.  The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTC) states that they will not insure individuals to carry out tooth whitening as there is no government recognised qualification for this treatment.

  • I have heard that only dentists and some other dental care professionals can whiten teeth.

    True. Only dentists, dental therapists, dental hygienists and clinical dental technicians working to the prescription of a dentist can legally perform tooth whitening.

  • You may have been told that it’s not illegal for beauticians to offer tooth whitening:

    False. The High Court case of GDC v Jamous confirmed that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and can only be legally performed by a dentist or a dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician working to the prescription of a dentist.

  • You may have been told that tooth whitening is not dentistry as it is a cosmetic procedure:

    False. In the case of GDC v Jamous the High Court ruled that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry. This means that tooth whitening is a dental treatment and not a cosmetic treatment. We are aware that the case of Optident Limited and Another v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Another [2001] UKHL 32 (28th June, 2001) is often quoted as authority for the proposition that tooth whitening is a cosmetic procedure and can be carried out by any person. The case is wrongly used to argue that since tooth whitening products are regulated by the European Council Directive on Cosmetic Products 76/68.EEC, a person offering tooth whitening services is carrying out a cosmetic procedure and is not practising dentistry. This is not a correct interpretation of the Optident case.  This case was concerned solely with classifying substances for marketing purposes.  The substances had to be defined as either dental devices or cosmetic products. The product used in tooth whitening was classified as a cosmetic product but the case did not establish that the act of using the product on the teeth amounted to a cosmetic treatment.

  • You may have been told that offering tooth whitening treatment to individuals by handing them trays for self-administration and asking them to sign consent forms circumvents the law:
     

    False. The Dentists Act makes it illegal for anyone who is not a dentist to give “treatment, advice or attendance” that would usually be given by a dentist. Handing an individual a tooth whitening tray and advising them on application, amongst other things, could constitute the giving of “advice or attendance” and would be illegal.

    The GDC has successfully prosecuted several individuals for illegally practising or offer to practise tooth whitening treatment using the so-called ‘self-administered’ method of providing the treatment.

    For press releases in relation to all of our illegal practice prosecutions please visit our website here: http://gdc-uk.org/Newsandpublications/Pressreleases/Pages/default.aspx

    Some of these include:

    Graeme Pattison at Teesside Magistrates’ Court on 10 February 2015 for unlawfully practising dentistry and unlawfully carrying on the business of dentistry by providing ‘self-administered’ tooth whitening treatment. He asserted that he was using the Megawhite teeth whitening system. He was given a two year conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £1000 towards the costs of the GDC.

    Faye Hill at Salisbury Magistrates’ Court on 30 March 2015 for unlawfully holding herself out as being prepared to practise dentistry by offering tooth whitening treatment. She asserted that she was trained by Naturawhite and was offering a ‘self-administered’ treatment. She was given a 12 month conditional discharge, ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £600 towards the costs of the GDC.

    Paula Barter at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court on 28 April 2015 for unlawfully holding herself out as being prepared to practise dentistry by offering to provide ‘self-administered’ tooth whitening treatment. She stated that she was using the Megawhite tooth whitening system. She was given a 12 month conditional discharge, ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and costs to the GDC of £600.

    Mohinder Dhami at Leicester Magistrates’ Court on 14 May 2015 for unlawfully holding herself out as being prepared to practise dentistry by offering ‘self-administered’ tooth whitening. She stated that she was using the Megawhite system of tooth whitening and was fined £1,000. She was ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £100 and costs to the GDC of £874.42.

     
  • Doesn’t EU law say that anyone can perform tooth whitening?

    False. EU Directive 76/768/EEC classifies products containing less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide or releasing less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide as being cosmetic and able to be sold on the open market. This is often cited as justification for the claim that tooth whitening is cosmetic. This is not true. The Directive does not legislate for how products containing or releasing less that 0.1% hydrogen peroxide should be applied. The act of tooth whitening is governed by the UK’s domestic law, namely the Dentists Act 1984 as interpreted by the UK courts.  Given the provisions of the Dentists Act 1984 and the High Court case of GDC v Jamous, tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry.  As such, tooth whitening can only be done by a dentist or a dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician to the prescription of a dentist. 

  • I have attended a tooth whitening training course. At the end of the day the teacher gave me a certificate and said that I was now legally qualified to whiten teeth.

    False. Attending a tooth whitening training course does not in itself allow an individual to provide tooth whitening legally. If you would like to carry out tooth whitening either by yourself or as a business you must qualify as dentist, dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician. 

  • Isn’t it the case that the GDC is only interested in protecting registered dentists and so it claims that tooth whitening cannot be legally performed by non-registrants?

    False. The GDC is an independent body set up by legislation to act to protect the public from harm.  The High Court has ruled that tooth whitening is an act of dentistry and the GDC is committed to ensuring that tooth whitening is only done by appropriately registered and qualified individuals in a safe environment and that proper clinical assessments are taken prior to treatment to check a patient’s suitability. 

  • I’ve been performing tooth whitening for several months now and I have just received a letter from the GDC telling me that what I’m doing is illegal. I know a lot of people who do tooth whitening who also aren’t dentists like me. Am I being picked on?

    No. The GDC often receives information about people performing illegal tooth whitening. When that information is received the GDC will review the information and decide what the best thing to do in each case is. This often means us writing to individuals or companies to inform them of the legal position. However, there are some instances when the public interest demands that further action is taken.

  • You may have been told that our previous prosecutions were because excessive levels of hydrogen peroxide were used:

    False. The use or sale of tooth whitening products containing excessive levels of hydrogen peroxide is a breach of EU Directive 76/768/EEC. These offences are prosecuted by Trading Standards not the GDC.  The previous prosecutions brought by the GDC were because individuals and companies had conducted tooth whitening procedures.  It was the act of undertaking the tooth whitening that the GDC prosecuted rather than the type of product used.

  • The products I use contain sodium perborate. I have been told that this means that they are peroxide-free and legal to use for tooth whitening.

    False. Tooth whitening can only be carried out by registered dental professionals. This is the case regardless of the products used.

    Sodium perborate releases hydrogen peroxide so to call it ‘peroxide-free’ could be misleading and a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

    Sodium perborate is also not safe to use in cosmetic products and was banned from use in in December 2010 by the implementation of the Cosmetics Regulation 1223/2009. It is classed as a reproductive toxicant, amongst other things.  Trading Standards enforce the law around these Regulations and the GDC will report all potential breaches of these Regulations to Trading Standards for investigation and potential prosecution.