Illegal tooth whitening: Derry & Strabane Mayor urges people to heed warning

'Protect Your Smile' by speaking to your dentist before getting your teeth whitened.
'Protect Your Smile' by speaking to your dentist before getting your teeth whitened.

Mayor Michaela Boyle has urged people to take heed after a shocking video showing a young woman with bleeding gums and swollen lips was released as a stark warning over illegal tooth whitening products.

The video, produced by the Department for the Economy Trading Standards Service for Northern Ireland and the Environmental Health Departments of the eleven District Councils with support from the British Dental Association, highlights the risks of some tooth whitening products and services and advises people to protect their smile by speaking to their dentist before getting their teeth whitened.

Tooth whitening is now one of the most popular cosmetic treatments with products available widely through retailers or online. The practice involves bleaching the teeth using a whitening product usually containing hydrogen peroxide.

Whilst whitening is perfectly safe if carried out by a registered dental professional, an untrained person could cause permanent damage to teeth and gums and the law is clear that tooth whitening should be carried out within the practice of dentistry.

This means that it is a criminal offence for anyone other than a registered dentist, or dental hygienist, dental therapist or clinical dental technician acting to the prescription of a dentist, to offer or provide it.

Criminal prosecutions for the illegal practice of dentistry can carry significant fines because of the risk these treatments pose to members of the public.

One of the most common injuries happens when the mouth-guard containing the bleaching gel (peroxide) does not fit properly and some of it leaks causing painful chemical burns to the mouth, lips, gums and tongue. In extreme cases people have been sick after swallowing the bleaching product.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Michaela Boyle, urged people to heed the warnings.

“Tooth whitening carried out by anyone who isn’t registered with the GDC (General Dental Council) is illegal, and I would urge anyone who is thinking of getting their teeth whitened – please do your research. Your teeth are too important to risk causing irreparable damage to your mouth and gums.”

She continued: “Some services and products promise up to fifteen shades whiter, so you have to ask yourself: what chemicals are they using to get those results? It may not work and could leave you in constant pain with incredibly sensitive teeth when eating or drinking.”

Charlene Conlon, Trading Standards Inspector said: “We would encourage anyone thinking of having their teeth whitened to watch this hard hitting video to help them better understand the dangers associated with illegal tooth whitening. Promises of fast results and a brighter smile may seem enticing but the dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide contained in illegal tooth whitening kits may put an individual’s health at risk.

“The Trading Standards Service is also warning unlicensed practitioners, including beauty salons, that they may face prosecution if they act unlawfully.”

Richard Graham, the British Dental Association’s Chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, commented: “There are strict laws on who can legally carry out tooth whitening and for good reason as this video shows. If you put yourself in the hands of unqualified people with unknown chemicals you are gambling with your health.

“As people have found to their cost, illegal and untrained operators can permanently damage teeth and gums and can’t provide help if something goes wrong. For safe, effective whitening visit your dentist.”

Professor Angus Walls, Director of the Dental Institute in Edinburgh added:

“The risks associated with the use of peroxide containing products are elevated with increased concentration so the practitioner applying the products at higher concentrations need to be trained to recognise the clinical signs of oral soft tissue disease. A dentist is so trained and an unregistered practitioner is not.

“Hydrogen Peroxide is a powerful oxidizing agent that is able to whiten many organic tissues including teeth. However, it can also cause chemical burns if used inappropriately and is a carcinogen with increasing risk of both a chemical burn and malignant transformation at increased concentrations.

“The risks of harm would be greater with a non-registered practitioner because they are not trained to recognize circumstances where the use of peroxide-containing products would be detrimental to the subject’s oral health whereas dentists are.”

While only dental professionals can provide a tooth-whitening service, it is perfectly legal for anyone to treat themselves with an over-the-counter kit, provided it contains less than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. However according to the General Dental Council, dentists are trained to know what whitening products will be safe for your teeth and gums, whilst products provided by non-dentists often do not have enough safety data and evidence to support their use; this can result in burned gums and/or blistered lips or even more serious consequences. The GDC also states that the products available to buy online or from High Street shops often fail to declare the precise chemicals used so it is very difficult to assess their safety.

To check that your dental professional is properly registered, please visit the General Dental Council’s website to check the GDC’s registers of dental professionals at www.gdc-uk.org.

If you come across any individual providing tooth whitening whom you believe is not registered with the General Dental Council, or any tooth whitening product which may be illegal, contact the Environmental Health department in your local council or speak to the Trading Standards Service by calling Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.

To view the ‘Protect Your Smile’ video visit: www.nidirect.gov.uk/tooth-whitening.

For further information go to www.derrystrabane.com/Subsites/Health-Community-Wellbeing/Health-Safety-and-Consumer-Protection-Team/Consumer-Protection-Role/Tooth-Whitening-Safety-Campaign