Just how dangerous is teeth whitening?

5 live presenter Adrian Goldberg investigated the dangers of teeth whitening being offered by beauty salons, despite prosecutions.

During the course of 5 live’s investigation, undercover reporters were offered treatment by one therapist who had been fined thousands of pounds just months earlier.  The General Dental Council had already prosecuted 24 people during the year, an increase on the previous year.

With pressures from the media and peers to have an ever whiter smile, the public deserves to know what the dangers are and where these might occur.   Adrian Goldberg explains all:

What is teeth whitening?

Celebrity culture and reality shows such as The Only Way is Essex have made teeth whitening one of the most popular cosmetic treatments in the UK. According to Mintel research, more than a third of adults are considering having it done. It involves bleaching your teeth using a whitening product usually containing hydrogen peroxide.

Is it dangerous?

The British Dental Association (BDA) says whitening is perfectly safe if carried out by a registered dental professional. But the BDA warns anyone else won’t have the right training or knowledge and could cause permanent damage to your teeth and gums. For example, if the mouthguard containing the bleaching gel does not fit properly some of it may leak and cause painful chemical burns. In extreme cases, people have been sick after swallowing the bleaching product. The BDA says beauticians aren’t properly trained to take a medical history to make sure someone is suitable for teeth whitening.

Who’s allowed to do it?

Under the Dentists Act 1984, it’s illegal for anyone other than dentists or dental health professionals such as hygienists to carry out teeth whitening. But we found dozens of beauty therapists across the UK offering the treatment.

But when I visited one salon last month, the owner was still offering the procedure for £50. She asked me to fill out a basic medical questionnaire and explained how the treatment would work.

“You have a gum shield in for 13 minutes and you jiggle it around,” she said. “Then you stop it and jiggle it around again in your mouth, press start again, and do it for another 13 minutes.”

She told me I would have to do the treatment myself in the salon, but she would be close by. “I don’t actually do it. I’m here with you. Well, I am around it.”

She did say if I was unhappy about going ahead I should contact my doctor or dentist.

Is that actually illegal?

The General Dental Council (GDC) is adamant that people cannot get round the law by handing customers the equipment to do the treatment themselves.

The GDC said: “The Dentists Act 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 also showed our undercover footage to Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation.

While he said he could not comment on individual cases, he told us: “It is concerning to hear that any beautician would provide tooth whitening through a self-prescribed system, take a medical history and provide instructions on how to place the trays and the light.

“A defence of merely offering hire of the treatment room in which a patient can carry out their ‘at-home’ whitening is an inadequate one. In this case, from the footage we have seen, this was certainly not made clear to the reporters, the implication was that the company in question was providing the treatment.

“Assuming that she is neither medically or dentally trained, we would question her ability to take and interpret a medical history.”

The beauty salon owner told 5 Live Investigates: “This salon offers teeth-whitening kits to be purchased at £50 just like High Street chemists and offers the hire of a treatment room. This is also being done right around the UK by High Street companies. A list of instructions informs the client what to do.”

Boutique Whitening’s comment:  Your health and wellbeing deserve better.  Pursue the legal route, where you can be assured of safe and effective treatment by an experienced professional.

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