It is time for the government to redouble its efforts to prosecute illegal teeth whitening providers. This is in light of the recent English Department of Health review of cosmetic practice published on April 24th 2013 which was highly critical of some of the standards in the cosmetic medicine industry. The report is entitled the “Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions”.
In 2012 there was a successful prosecution and jailing of an illegal teeth whitening trader. Barrington Armstrong-Thorpe was given a 16 month jail sentence by a judge at Chelmsford Crown Court for illegally selling teeth whitening products.
We are living in austere times and many people are looking at ways of maximising or supplementing their income. It is easy to go on to the internet where you can find lots of companies offering franchise opportunities for teeth whitening or sales opportunities for teeth whitening products and on the surface this can seem like a perfectly legitimate way of making extra money. In the case of Mr Armstrong Thorpe it was deemed to be illegal and I am therefore pleased that the law has finally caught up with him. The government needs to move to the next level following its review of cosmetic practice and aggressively and actively prosecute illegal tooth whitening traders.
There has been a lot of guidance recently about teeth whitening which should hopefully give some clarity around the whole situation. Firstly the General Dental Council (GDC), the organisation which regulates dental professionals and is responsible for protecting the UK public clearly states that applying materials to teeth and carrying out procedures that are supposed to improve the appearance of teeth and also giving clinical advice about these matters is actually the practice of dentistry. The GDC state that this should only be undertaken by dentists or dental hygienists/therapists working to a dentist’s prescription. I support the GDC in its view that the carrying out of dentistry by individuals not registered with them is a criminal offence. This is not about dentists having a monopoly it is about the protection of the public. Good teeth whitening is not just about price. It is about safety, standards and quality.
The most recent important piece of legislation from the government is the Cosmetic Product (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2012. A link to the document is here. This came into force on 31st October 2012. From 31 October 2012 the government has basically fallen into line with a directive issued by the EU.
This means that:
1. Products containing more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide cannot be provided direct to the consumers or public.
2. Products containing between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide can only be sold to dental practitioners.
3. These products can only be made available to patients following an examination – by definition that would be a clinical procedure which would have to be undertaken by a dentist. The first session of whitening treatment should be provided by a dentist, or by a hygienist or therapist under supervision of a dentist after which they can be provided to the patient to complete the cycle of use.
4. Products containing between 0.1% and 6% hydrogen peroxide should not be used on under 18s.
5. Products containing over 6% hydrogen peroxide are illegal to use.
Some dentists as an alternative to hydrogen peroxide are using carbamide peroxide and 6% hydrogen peroxide equates to just over 16% of carbamide peroxide.
Many so-called teeth whitening clinics are using products such as chlorine dioxide and sodium perborate. These are not appropriate products for teeth whitening and have strong and serious question marks around safety attached to them. So with so-called teeth whitening clinics, what we are effectively talking about a group of people who are not only illegally practising dentistry, but also selling products that are dangerous for health to a public that is unsuspecting and is looking for what they think is a cheap bargain. Why on earth would people want to compromise their health in this way by using organisations and companies that are providing a service that does not fall within any recognised framework of regulation or scrutiny?
I and my team at Langley Dental Practice, Middleton, Manchester have been offering safe, effective and legal teeth whitening for over 10 years with superb results. I am very critical of the misleading advertising tactics that some of the franchising teeth whitening companies are using to scare patients away from dental practices. The so-called cosmetic teeth whitening companies try and put forward the myth of greedy dentists ripping off the public claiming that we want to charge anything between £350 and £700 for whitening. Here at Langley Dental Practice we start our teeth whitening prices at just £199 for both upper and lower teeth and this includes a full detailed consultation with an experienced British educated, qualified and trained dentist, somebody who is skilled in the art and science of looking after your teeth – not a “cosmetic technician” or “beauty therapist” or even worse somebody working out of the back of a van who comes to your home.
I welcome the fact that there is now greater clarity around the issue of teeth whitening and also that illegal teeth whiteners are now being prosecuted. The government review of cosmetic practice should be a wake up call for all those concerned about illegal and poor practice whether in medicine or dentistry. Everybody is looking for value for money these days but why put a price on your health and take unnecessary risks?