Legal and illegal practice
- The Dentists Act 1984 (the Act) sets out the law in relation to the provision of dental treatments and advice in the UK.
- By law, all dental professionals in the UK must be registered with the GDC in order to work legally and safely.
- To find out if a dental professional is registered with us you can check our register.
- Section 38 of the Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone who is not registered with us to practise dentistry or to offer or imply they are prepared to practise dentistry.
- Section 37 of the Act explains that practising dentistry means providing or offering to provide the treatment, advice or attendance that would usually be given or performed by a dentist.
- Section 39 of the Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone who is not registered with us to take or use various protected dental titles, such as 'dentist', 'dental nurse', 'dental hygienist' 'dental technician' or to imply that they are a registered dental professional.
- Sections 40 and 41 of the Act sets out that it is a criminal offence for an individual who is not registered with us to receive payment for dental treatments or advice.
- Section 43 of the Act sets out that if a company is going to receive payment for dental treatment or advice, the majority of its directors must be registered with us or it will be committing a criminal offence.
- All of these offences are punishable by an unlimited fine in England and Wales and are heard in the magistrates' courts.
- The High Court confirmed the GDC position that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and can only safely and legally be offered by registered dental professionals in the case of GDC v Jamous  EWHC 1428. This is regardless of the products used and we have answered some frequently asked questions on this topic below.
- The GDC will consider all allegations of illegal practice that are reported to us and we take these allegations very seriously because of this risk of harm to the public that is posed by it.
- We have a Prosecution policy which sets out how we will action these concerns or complaints that we receive.
- We will also publicise the cases that we prosecute to raise awareness in the public in the need to ensure that their dental treatment is conducted safely by registered dental professionals.
Getting in Touch with Us
- If you receive a warning letter from us which sets out that we have received an allegation that you are practising dentistry illegally, please do not ignore it. Do contact us to discuss the matter.
- If you receive a pack which sets out that you are being prosecuted by the GDC for allegations of illegal practice, please do not ignore it. Contact us to discuss the matter and promptly seek independent legal advice.
Frequently asked questions
Why has the GDC decided that tooth whitening can only be carried out by dentists? Is it just protecting the income of dentists?
No. The GDC's is the UK's regulator of the dental profession and its primary purpose is protecting the public from risk of harm. The GDC will also enforce the law around acts of dentistry. The GDC has not simply taken a position that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and can only be safely and legally carried out by registered dental professionals, this position has been confirmed by the High Court in the case of GDC v Jamous. The GDC must act in line with the law in relation to this area to ensure patient safety.
Doesn’t EU law overrule the case of Jamous and I can carry out tooth whitening as long as I don’t use peroxide?
No. The UK courts apply European law to the cases that they decide upon. The High Court in the case of GDC v Jamous considered arguments in relation to EU law and decided that offering tooth whitening treatment is the practice of dentistry and can only legally and safely be carried out by registered dental professionals. This the current binding position in the UK and remains the case regardless of the products used.
Why do I keep being told that it is ok to have tooth whitening by a beautician as they are only using less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide?
There is a difference between who can legally sell certain tooth whitening products and who can legally offer to provide tooth whitening treatment to another person.
Only registered dental professionals can offer or provide tooth whitening treatment. This is regardless of the products used. The maximum strength of hydrogen peroxide that a dentist can use in providing cosmetic tooth whitening treatment is 6%. Products that contain or release less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can be legally sold in Europe but that does not mean that unregistered individuals using them to provide tooth whitening treatment makes that treatment legal or safe.
I’ve been told that tooth whitening is cosmetic and not dentistry – why can’t I offer it?
The High Court in the case of GDC v Jamous confirmed that tooth whitening is a dental treatment and can only legally and safely be carried out by registered dental professionals. The High Court heard argument in this case that tooth whitening was merely cosmetic and decided that this was not correct. This is regardless of the products used.
Don’t you only prosecute cases because there are excessive levels of hydrogen peroxide used?
When the GDC receives information that someone is offering illegal treatments, we will investigate in line with our Prosecution Policy (541.6 KB, PDF).
The decision to prosecute will depend on a variety of factors, such as, whether there is a risk of harm to the public or whether there is a history of ignoring warnings from the GDC alongside other factors outlined in our prosecution policy. However, tooth whitening can only legally and safely be carried out by registered dental professionals and this is the case regardless of the products used. None of our previous prosecutions have been taken solely on the basis of the products used and many relate to cases where the individual claimed to be using 'non-peroxide' methods.
Where there are complaints that the products used during tooth whitening treatment contain excessive levels of hydrogen peroxide, these matters will also be referred to Trading Standards where appropriate as they enforce breaches of the relevant EU Directive that sets the law in this area.
The products I use contain sodium perborate. Does this mean that they are peroxide-free and legal to use for tooth whitening?
No. Tooth whitening can only legally and safely 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.