Was your tooth whitening legal?

Law & Regulation
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Experts warn: Increased fines and criminal records prove illegal tooth whitening does not pay

Health experts warn beauty therapists and any other non-dental professionals not to perform tooth whitening in clinics and spas, following a recent surge of fines and prosecutions. Authorities are clamping down on those carrying out tooth whitening illegally, and courts are increasing the severity of fines and convictions.

One of the latest criminal convictions saw former reality TV personality Chelsey Harwood ordered to pay more than £11,000 by Liverpool Magistrates’ Court after being found guilty of illegal tooth whitening. In a similar case, business owner, Harjeet Jolly, was ordered to pay more than £9,000 by Derby Magistrates’ Court after being found guilty of the same charges.

By law, tooth whitening must only be carried out by a qualified dental professional. Campaigners for safe tooth whitening, the Tooth Whitening Information Group, warns beauty therapists against providing illegal tooth whitening. Lead coordinator of the Tooth Whitening Information Group, Karen Coates, says the temptation to draw in new clients by offering whitening procedures could cost beauty therapists their livelihood, jeopardise their future, and land them with a criminal record.

Major damage to the mouth

Mrs Coates says: “The recent prosecutions show that offering illegal tooth whitening does not pay and can leave beauty therapists counting the cost of a substantial fine, as well as receiving a criminal record.

“The fines handed out by courts following prosecutions by the regulator (the General Dental Council) are unlimited and have been increasing in line with the severity of the issue. Every single prosecution brought against illegal tooth whitening providers has been successful, so when people are caught, the consequences are likely to be extremely serious.

“In the wrong hands, tooth whitening can cause major damage to the mouth, leaving patients with severe burns and in excruciating pain. In the United Kingdom, only qualified dental professionals can carry out tooth whitening procedure. The message is simple, if you are not a dental professional it is illegal to offer tooth whitening – and you will be caught.”

Under a European Council directive, tooth whitening products containing or releasing above 0.1% hydrogen peroxide can only be sold to a registered dental professional offering the treatment in their practice.

Tooth whitening can only be provided after a dentist has examined the patient to ensure there are no risks or other concerns about their oral condition. The patient must be over 18-years-old, and the first application is by a dental practitioner or under their direct supervision by a dental hygienist or dental therapist.

Ignorance is no excuse

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says many of the problems with unsafe tooth whitening come from those carrying out the treatment but unaware that it is illegal for them to do so.

He says: “Many beauty professionals will undergo a brief ‘training period’ with an unscrupulous company and are then led to believe they are qualified to carry out tooth whitening. This is false and can be significantly dangerous to consumers and leave providers facing severe legal consequences.

“Ignorance in this case in not a valid excuse. By carrying out these treatments beauty therapists are breaking the law and will be forced to face the penalties. Fines are unlimited, so it can have serious financial and professional implications.”

In recent years, tooth whitening has become an increasingly accessible and affordable cosmetic treatment for those looking to improve their appearance.

Dr Carter concludes: “There are a number of reasons why people might get their teeth whitened. Everyone is different; and just as our hair and skin colour vary, so do our teeth. Very few people have brilliant-white teeth, and they become more discoloured as we get older. If anybody is looking to investigate getting their teeth whitened it is really important they have it done in safe way, by a qualified – and legal – dental professional.”

If you know of anybody performing illegal tooth whitening or have had a treatment carried out by someone who is not a registered dental professional, you can report it on the Tooth Whitening Information Group’s website, visit www.safetoothwhitening.org.