News item

Tooth whitening – who can do what?

Francesca Keen, Head of Illegal Practice at the General Dental Council, explains the situation.

Over recent years we have become aware of the increasing popularity of certain dental procedures and in particular, tooth whitening. Increasingly, these treatments are being carried out in a growing number of salons, clinics and shopping centres by non GDC registrants. The standard of treatment being offered by non GDC registrants regularly falls far below that which is required of our registrants.  

Sections 37 and 38 of the Dentists Act 1984 (“the Act”) state that dentistry can only legally be undertaken by GDC registrants; specifically dentists, or hygienists or therapists working to a dentist’s prescription. However, several companies which produce tooth whitening systems maintain that, since tooth whitening products are covered by the European Council Directive on Cosmetic Products 2011/84 EU (“the regulations”), their agents are carrying out a cosmetic procedure and not practising dentistry. This is an incorrect interpretation of the law. 

The regulations state that tooth whitening products containing or releasing between 0.1%-6% hydrogen peroxide should not be made directly available to the consumer, other than through treatment by a registered dentist (or dental hygienist or dental therapist working to a dentist’s prescription). Breach of these regulations is a criminal offence. In addition, it is illegal under these regulations for tooth whitening products which contain more than 6% hydrogen peroxide, or for any associated products which release greater than 6% hydrogen peroxide, to be supplied or administered for cosmetic purposes. 

In addition, The Dentists Act 1984 makes it illegal for anyone who is not a dentist to give “treatment, advice or attendance” that would usually be given by a dentist. We are aware of some individuals handing members of the public a tooth whitening tray and advising them on the application of the product, amongst other things, whilst they observe. The GDC is of the view that this would constitute the giving of “advice or attendance” pursuant to section 37 of the Act and would be illegal.

Last year the High Court ruled that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and should only be undertaken by regulated dental professionals. The full details of the case can be found here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2013/1428.html 

In the course of any year the GDC might receive hundreds of complaints about tooth whitening however; often they aren’t for us to investigate. For example a member of the public might report someone setting up in a shopping centre, but either tooth whitening has not actually been carried out, or it is being carried out by a registered dentist, dental hygienist or dental therapist.

But the GDC is not idle. We will take action wherever possible, but cannot do this in every case as we do not have statutory power to walk in to salons, beauty parlours or shopping centres, across the United Kingdom, and shut illegal tooth whiteners down.

Nevertheless we are working in other ways to try to tackle this issue. For example, the GDC is working with ‘daily deals’ companies like Groupon and Amazon Local to guard against promotion of illegal tooth whitening. All three of these companies have given us assurances that they will not offer tooth whitening deals from individuals who are not registered by the GDC.

We are also contacting some of the UK’s biggest venues to try to ensure that they’re also only working with exhibitors who are compliant with the law.
 
We have lots of information about tooth whitening on our website for dental professionals and for patients: 
http://www.gdc-uk.org/Dentalprofessionals/Standards/Pages/Tooth-whitening.aspx 

If you have any additional questions which are not addressed on the GDC website, please feel free to contact a member of the Illegal Practice Team at illegalpractice@gdc-uk.org  

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